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BOSTON PUBLIC LIBRARY 



3 9999 06384 037 3 
J. VAX 



NfG BACK 




• Reflections on suicide, child abuse, depression and murder 

rubHc ud it h Weinshall Liberman 



iry 



BOSTON PUBLIC LIBRARY 



LOOKING BACK 



Also by the author: 



INTRODUCTION TO PUBLIC INTERNATIONAL LAW (1955) 
THE BIRD'S LAST SONG (1976) 
HOLOCAUST WALL HANGINGS (2002) 
MY LIFE INTO ART (2007) 



LOOKING BACK 



C^^D 



Four Plays 




iUniverse, Inc. 

New York Bloomington 



LOOKING BACK 

Four Plays 

Copyright © 2010 Judith Weinshall Liberman 

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced by 
any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, 
recording, taping or by any information storage retrieval system without the 
written permission of the publisher except in the case of brief quotations 
embodied in critical articles and reviews. Nor may any play published in 
this book, or any part thereof, be produced, staged or otherwise performed 
without the prior written permission of the author. 

This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, names, incidents, organizations, 
and dialogue in this novel are either the products of the author's imagination 
or are used fictitiously. 



iUniverse books may be ordered through booksellers or by contacting: 

Judith Weinshall Liberman 

iUniverse 

1663 Liberty Drive 

Bloomington, IN 47403 

www.iuniverse.com 

1-800-Authors (1-800-288-4677) 

Because of the dynamic nature of the Internet, any Web addresses or links 
contained in this book may have changed since publication and may no longer 
be valid. The views expressed in this work are solely those of the author and 
do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher, and the publisher hereby 
disclaims any responsibility for them. 



ISBN: 978-1-4502-3765-9 (sc) 
ISBN: 978-1-4502-3766-6 (ebk) 

Library of Congress Control Number: 2010907021 

Printed in the United States of America 
iUniverse rev. date: 08/23/2010 



This book is dedicated 

to the memory of 

my husband, Prof. Robert Liberman 

my father, Dr. Abraham Weinshall 

my brother, Saul Weinshall 

to my family 

my son, Dr. David Liberman 

my daughter, Dr. Laura Liberman 

my grandchildren, Daniel, Nina, Cynthia and Deborah 

to Samuel Harps 

Artistic Director 

of the 

Shades Repertory Theater 

in Haverstraw, New York, U.S.A. 

who was the first to stage any of my plays 

(GOOD OLD ABRAHAM) 

and did so brilliantly 

and 

to the Reali School 

in Haifa, Israel 

for encouraging my quest 

for knowledge 

for accomplishment 

and for excellence 



Digitized by the Internet Archive 
in 2013 



http://archive.org/details/lookingbackfourpOOIibe 



A NOTE FROM THE PLAYWRIGHT 

This book contains four of my plays, all written after I 
reached my eightieth birthday. Although I spent most of 
my adult life creating visual art (oils, acrylics, graphics, 
wall hangings, mixed media, mosaics, ceramics, stone 
sculptures etc.), I did, over the years, take time out to write. 
My published books were almost as diverse as my art, since 
they consisted of a textbook on international law (1955), 
a children's book (1976), a book about one of my most 
important series of artworks (2002), and an autobiography 
(2007). During this period, I wrote several plays, too, but 
never bothered to send them out. 

My interest in play writing dates back to my teen years in 
Israel - it was then called "Palestine" - where I was born 
and grew up. I remember spending a summer, while I was 
on vacation from high school, translating Arthur Koestler's 
newly published drama, TWILIGHT BAR, from English into 
Hebrew. Looking back, I cannot remember whether I spent 
all that time working on the translation because the play was 
particularly meaningful to me or because Arthur Koestler 
was a close friend of my parents' and I was eager to ingratiate 
myself to him. Since Mr. Koestler never learned Hebrew, 
however, I did not bother to show him my translation but only 
let him know that I was working on it. 

I wrote my first play when I was in college in America in 
the late 1940s. The play was called VICTORY SONG and 
questioned the existence of justice either in this world or 
in the hereafter. During the ensuing few decades, several 
other plays followed. I took courses in play writing at 
Harvard Extension, read books on play writing, and joined a 
playwrights group. I also enjoyed reading and seeing plays. 



Vll 



A NOTE FROM THE PLAYWRIGHT 

My husband's interest in playwriting served to encourage 
me further, so it is not surprising that after he passed away 
in 1986. 1 stopped writing plays and immersed myself 
almost completely in visual art. creating several series of 
artworks through which I explored the Holocaust and other 
manifestations of the human condition. 

It was not until I reached my eightieth birthday and my 
daughter. Dr. Laura Liberman. aware of my interest in 
playwriting. treated me to an excellent playwriting course 
on the internet, that the spark of playwriting was rekindled 
in me. By then I was living in a retirement community, 
with little space for creating visual art but plenty of time for 
creative work, so playwriting was the obvious activity for me 
to pursue. 

The first play I wrote at this late stage of my life was 
EMPATHY. The play was inspired by an experience I had 
lived through some thirty years before, when my husband. 
Robert Liberman. who was a professor of law at Boston 
University and an excellent pianist, suffered a stroke at 
age 52. which rendered him unable to play the piano. Since 
playing the piano was vital to him. his loss of the ability 
to play plunged him into a severe depression and suicidal 
thoughts. Although I spoke about that experience in my 
autobiography. MY LIFE INTO ART. I felt that by making 
the experience the subject of a play. I could explore it in 
greater depth. Having changed the various personalities 
involved. I created characters who presented arguments 
from various points of view (medical, religious, legal, 
ethical, psychological, emotional; against the protagonist's 
suicidal plans, thus allowing me to delve into the effect of 
incapacity and depression not only on the direct victim but 
also on others. 



Mil 



LOOKING BACK: Four Plays 

The religious arguments against suicide brought forth by one of 
the characters in EMPATHY made me reflect upon Abraham 
the Patriarch, who, like the main character in EMPATHY, 
was "tested." Before too long, I found myself reading and 
rereading the story of Abraham as told in the Old Testament 
book of Genesis. Since I grew up in Haifa, Israel, and attended 
the Reali School, where the Old Testament was an important 
part of our curriculum, I became acquainted with the story of 
Abraham when I was still in elementary school. The emphasis 
in our Bible classes at the Reali School was on the historical 
and literary aspects of the stories we read, rather than on their 
religious implications. What I took away from the biblical story 
about Abraham was that he was a man whose faith in God was 
so profound that he was willing to give up his two beloved sons 
if that was what God demanded of him. 

Although at the time I did not question Abraham's obedience 
to God, I felt compassion, even as a young girl, for Abraham's 
two sons: Ishmael, whom, following God's word, Abraham 
banished to the desert; and Isaac, whom Abraham was 
willing to sacrifice, seemingly without hesitation, as a burnt 
offering to God. 

I was in my twenties when, with the advent of motherhood, I 
first began to seriously reflect upon both the moral soundness 
of Abraham's behavior and the patriarch's veneration in 
history. From the suicides of ancient Masada through the 
martyrdoms of the Middle Ages and all the way to more 
recent sacrifices made in war by fathers and mothers of their 
sons and daughters, Abraham's binding of Isaac has served as 
an ideal worthy of emulation. Over the years, this admiration 
for Abraham increasingly appeared to me to be unjustifiable, 
so that when I sat down to write GOOD OLD ABRAHAM, 
my doubts about the patriarch and his adulation were the 
result of decades of reflection. 



IX 



A NOTE FROM THE PLAYWRIGHT 

GOOD OLD ABRAHAM questions the rationality and 
morality of Abraham's behavior and his suitability for the 
positive symbolic role accorded to him by history. This 
questioning is done within the framework of father-son Bible 
study sessions, where the son, Joshua, an American teenager 
who is the play's main character, increasingly gains interest 
in the Abraham saga and, with mounting self-confidence and 
insight, dares to question old "truths." Needless to say, the 
implications of the play go far beyond the bounds of the story 
of Abraham. They extend to "truths" born in other times and 
places, "truths" which are still held, and even fought and died 
for. and which, having remained hitherto unquestioned, may 
need a Joshua to probe their worth. 

My play MICHAL came next. It was inspired by the biblical 
story of Michal. daughter of King Saul, ancient Israel's first 
king, as told in two books of the Old Testament, Samuel I and 
Samuel II. As with the story of Abraham, I became familiar 
with Michafs story while I was still in elementary school. 
Although when we studied the Samuel books I was focused 
on the male characters in the story about the House of Saul, 
I did, even then, feel compassion for Michal, who lost her 
father. King Saul, and three of her brothers, in the war of 
Israel against the Philistines on Mount Gilboa. This kernel 
of empathy for Michal was reawakened in me years later, 
when my only brother, whose name happened to be "Saul," 
was killed in the Israeli War of Independence in 1948, so 
that, when I settled down to being a full time playwright, the 
story of Michal. tucked away deep in my memory, naturally 
suggested itself to me. In this play I portray Michal as a 
tragic figure caught up in forces beyond her control. 

Last but not least came SISERAS MOTHER, a play inspired 
by the story of Deborah as told in chapters 4-5 of the Book 
of Judges. Again, I studied the story of Deborah, the biblical 



LOOKING BACK: Four Plays 

leader, judge and prophetess, when I was still in elementary 
school. Because our teachers at the Reali School presented 
the Old Testament as a source of knowledge about history 
and literature, rather than as a religious document, I paid 
particular attention to the characters in the stories we studied. 
In the chapters on Deborah, I made note of the two main 
characters, i.e., the judge-prophetess herself, who was the 
leader of Israel during its pre-monarchic period, and Barak, 
whom Deborah summoned to command the nation's forces in 
a war against the Canaanites. 

At the time, I evaluated these two, as well as the other 
characters in the story of Deborah, by their stance vis-a-vis 
Israel. This was easy not only because it was the patriotic 
thing to do but also because the Canaanites had oppressed 
Israel for twenty years and it seemed to me that oppression 
should not be suffered by any nation. Therefore, when we 
read about Sisera, the Canaanites' military commander, and 
his mother, who awaited her son's return from battle, I felt 
no sympathy for either one of them when I learned that Yael, 
seemingly harboring pro -Israelite sentiments although not 
herself an Israelite, invited Sisera into her tent and played the 
kind hostess, only to kill him after he fell asleep. I agreed 
wholeheartedly with Deborah when she said, "Blessed above 
women shall Yael be..." 

Over the years, the balance of my sympathy shifted from 
Yael, the war heroine, to Sisera's mother. Whether because I 
lost my only brother in war and have known the pain endured 
by a family that lost a loved one, or because of increased 
maturity, I eventually saw Sisera's mother neither as an 
"enemy" nor as an evil woman, as the biblical tale implies 
and as many commentators have suggested, but rather as 
a victim of man's inhumanity to man. Therefore, when I 
wrote SISERA'S MOTHER, I portrayed the Canaanite 



XI 



A NOTE FROM THE PLAYW RIGHT 

commander's mother, vainly awaiting the return of her 
beloved son from battle, as a woman worthy not of derision 
but of compassion. As in my other plays, the implications 
of SISERA'S MOTHER extend beyond the confines of the 

drama. 

Although three of the plays included in this collection 
were inspired by biblical stories. I have taken the liberty of 
bestowing my own interpretation upon the original tales. 

Judith Weinshall Liberman 



Xll 



TABLE OF CONTENTS 



EMPATHY: A one act play 1 

GOOD OLD ABRAHAM: A full length play in three acts . . 63 

MICHAL: A short play in three acts 191 

SISERA'S MOTHER: Aten minute play 251 



Xlll 



EMPATHY 

A one act play 



CHARACTERS 



JACOB 



A youthful looking man in his early fifties, 
a performing pianist and a piano teacher at a 
local college, now on medical leave because of 
a recent stroke. 



ESTHER JACOB'S wife, an attractive woman in her late 
forties, a law professor at a local university, 
now on leave so she can take care of JACOB. 



BEN 



JACOB'S and ESTHER'S 23 year old son, a 
second year law school student. 



BECKY 



ALAN 



MAYA 



JACOB'S and ESTHER'S 19 year old 
daughter, a college student majoring in art. 

A doctor in his early fifties, a childhood 
friend of JACOB'S. With appropriate makeup/ 
costume, this character can perhaps be played 
by the same actor as BEN. 

The ghost of JACOB'S deceased mother, 
an old woman. She speaks directly to the 
audience. The other characters are not aware 
of her presence and cannot hear her, although 
she may have the power to plant thoughts in 
one or more of the other characters. Whenever 
MAYA speaks, she appears in the foreground 
at stage left with a drape behind her and 
is brightly lit by a spotlight. The spotlight 
disappears when she stops speaking. 



EMPATHY 



TIME AND PLACE 

The living room of a suburban house in Massachusetts, U.S.A. 
The whole action takes place on a single day in the 1980s. 



LOOKING BACK: Four Flays 

The curtain rises to reveal a dimly lit living room. There is an 
exterior door at stage left and an interior door at stage right. 
The room is sparsely furnished. There is a cushioned sofa in 
the center against the back wall, with a coffee table in front 
of it. A small desk stands near the exterior door and there is 
a grand piano toward the opposite end of the room at stage 
right. The piano, with its lid propped up, dominates the room. 
The piano stool has been pushed aside toward the wall. 
There is a tall bookcase full of sheet music against the wall 
next to the piano. A shadowy figure, the ghost of JACOB'S 
deceased mother, MAYA, is barely visible in the foreground 
at stage left and is separated from the living room by a drape. 
MAYA is suddenly illuminated by a bright spotlight. She is 
wearing an old-fashioned housedress, and her hair is pulled 
back in an old-fashioned style. 

MAYA 

(Speaking to the audience.) 
Hello there! My name is Maya. Maybe you wouldn't expect 
me to be here because I've been dead for a long time and you 
wouldn't expect a dead person to come back. But I had to come. 
Actually, to tell you the truth, nothing could have kept me away. 
You see, my only child, my dear son, Jacob, is in serious trouble 
and needs help. I'm here to help him. Now, I'm sure you realize 
that as a dead person, my powers are limited. But I'm hoping 
to at least be able to plant some ideas in my son's head to steer 
him right, and in the heads of his family and friends so they can 
help him. And maybe, just maybe, I can even plant some ideas 
in your heads - yes, you out there in the audience. I think if I 
tell you about Jacob so you get to know him, you'll want to help 
him, too. What else would a good Jewish mother do than muster 
all the help she can get when her child's in trouble? 

The spotlight disappears. The overall stage lighting increases 
gradually to reveal JACOB, seated in a motorized wheelchair 



EMPATHY 

in front of the piano, his dangling left arm clearly visible. He 
is playing a soft, melancholy tune with his good right hand, 
then, with considerable effort, lifts his left hand, which falls 
dead on the piano keys, producing a disharmonious, jarring 
sound. JACOB stops playing. He stares at his left hand for a 
long moment, then pushes his wheelchair away from the piano, 
allowing his left hand to fall off the piano keys, and wheels 
himself quickly across the room to the desk. There, he picks up 
the telephone receiver and dials with his good right hand. 

JACOB 

(Speaking into the receiver.) 
Hi, Alan. Jacob. Listen - - now would be a perfect time - - 
you come over and help me out - - (Listens.) 

MAYA 

As I recall, Jacob and Alan first met at the temple 
kindergarten. What a nice little boy Alan was! Nice family, 
too. The father was a doctor, the mother a nurse. Jacob and 
Alan always played together when they were little. 

JACOB 

Try to understand - - can't live like this - - (Listens.) 

MAYA 

They went together not just to kindergarten but later to public 
school. And of course in the afternoon, when public school 
was out, they went to Hebrew school together. They always 
had a lot of homework to do, both for public school and for 
Hebrew school. In those days children had a lot of homework, 
not like today. Jacob and Alan used to do their homework 
together, usually at our house, so I could feed them while 
they were studying. They especially loved those cheese 
blintzes I used to make. 



LOOKING BACK.: Four Plays 

JACOB 

Told you repeatedly - -just can't take it any more - - the pain 

- - (Listens.) - - Not physical pain - - that would be easier - - it's 
my spirit - - (Listens.) - - Could have another stroke tomorrow 

- - (Listens.) - - Don't need to tell you of all people - - no 
accounting for these things - - they hit you out of a clear blue 

- - (Listens.) - - As you know - - hardly been sick a day in my 
life - - suddenly this - - (Listens.) - - 1 know I'm depressed - - 
have reason to be - - in my shoes, who wouldn't - - (Listens.) 

MAYA 

Jacob started piano lessons when he was six years old. I 
loved listening to songs on the radio and Jacob would sit in 
my lap and listen and sing with me, and the way he sang, 
well, I knew right away he was gifted. He had absolute pitch, 
singing the songs in exactly the right key. So I talked to his 
father and said, "Irving, you have a musically gifted son. We 
should get him a piano." His father wasn't too keen on the 
idea. He wanted Jacob to spend his free time playing sports 
rather than playing the piano. You see, my husband had this 
old fashioned idea that a man should do manly things and 
that playing music wasn't manly. So I had a lot of talking 
to do, because Jacob's father was a very stubborn man. 
But he finally agreed that we should get a piano for Jacob. 
(Chuckles.) You know how it is between a husband and a 
wife. A wife has a way of convincing even the most stubborn 
husband to do what she wants him to do. 

JACOB 

Look, Alan - - 1 know what I'm doing - - (Listens.) - - No - - 
can't adjust - - I'll never adjust - - (Listens.) 

MAYA 

Of course a child had to really love the piano to make time 
for practicing. I arranged for Jacob's piano lessons to be 



EMPATHY 

on Friday afternoon because there was no Hebrew school 
on Friday, before the Sabbath. During the rest of the week, 
between going to public school and then going to Hebrew 
school and then doing homework, there wasn't much time to 
do anything else. But Jacob loved the piano so much he still 
managed to find an hour or two to practice at night, before 
going to bed. I always sat next to him whenever I could. How 
I loved listening to him! It was such a joy! 

JACOB 

Of course I love Esther - - and the kids - - what does that have to 
do with it - - It's my life I'm talking about - - (Listens.) - - Please, 
Alan - - don't try to talk me out of it - - no use - - (Listens.) 

MAYA 

As you can imagine, Jacob's father was not too keen on the 
idea of Jacob practicing late into the night. He thought Jacob 
should go to bed early and get a good night's sleep. But I 
explained to my husband that a person doesn't just need to 
have his body nourished by food and rest, he needs to have 
his spirit nourished, and of course for Jacob that came from 
playing the piano. (Chuckles.) I finally convinced Irving. I 
already told you, a wife finds a way. That's just the way it is. 

JACOB 

Listen, Alan - - Now's a perfect time - - bring some stuff for 
me to take - - an injection might be best - - quick and easy - - 
sure results - - Esther's finally out - - don't expect her back 
till noon - - You live just down the street - - could be in and 
out long before she gets back - - nobody would even suspect 
you've been here - - 

JACOB listens to ALAN'S response, then hangs up the 
receiver. 



LOOKING BACK: Four Flays 

JACOB 

(To himself.) 
Hallelujah! 

JACOB turns his wheelchair to face the exterior door at stage 
left. A moment later, ALAN comes in through that door. 

ALAN 

Hi, Jacob, what's going on with you? 

JACOB 

Thanks for coming - - 

ALAN 

Glad to see you. 

JACOB 

Goes to prove - - no friend like an old - - friend. 

ALAN 

I am your friend. Never doubt that. 

JACOB 

Knew I could count on you - - to do what's right - - 

ALAN 

You certainly can. 

JACOB 

Certainly appreciate it! 

ALAN 

(Pause.) 
I wanted to make sure you don't do anything rash. 



EMPATHY 

JACOB 



Rash? Have you ever - - 



ALAN 
No, but I've never known you to be depressed before. 

JACOB 

I may be depressed - - but perfectly rational - - need to get out 
of this misery - - 

ALAN 
You do, but death is not the way out. 

JACOB 

It's the only way - - 

ALAN 

Look, Jacob, studies show that when people are depressed, 
their thinking is distorted. So what they think is rational may 
not be, objectively speaking. 

JACOB 

I'm perfectly rational - - Here's the logic: A. I can't play the 
piano. B. I can't live without playing the piano. Hence C. I 
can't live - - What's irrational about that? 

ALAN 

(Pause.) 
Maybe you should see a psychiatrist just to talk things over. I 
think that might be helpful. I could recommend someone. 

JACOB 

Don't want anyone - - messing up my mind - - 



10 



LOOKING BACK: Four Plays 

ALAN 

A psychiatrist could prescribe the appropriate medication. 

JACOB 

What a shrink considers appropriate - - not what I would call 

- - want a prescription that would put an end - - 

ALAN 

No doctor would do that. 

JACOB 

As a doctor, you could - - thought that's why you came - - 

ALAN 
See? That's what I mean. Thinking so is part of your 
distorted thought process. You should know me better than 
that. 

JACOB 

- - thought you're a friend - - nothing distorted about thinking 
that - - 

ALAN 

No, there isn't. I am your friend. But if what you expect from 
me is to help you commit suicide, forget it. You're on your 
own. 

JACOB 

Even if I knew what to take - - couldn't get anything without 
prescription - - no other way seems sure and swift - - couldn't 
get a prescription or anything else - - without Esther all over 
it-- 

ALAN 

I wouldn't be surprised. 



11 



EMPATHY 

JACOB 

Since my stroke - - she refuses to leave me alone - - took a 
leave of absence from the law school - - days since she's gone 
out - - ordering everything by phone - - 

ALAN 
She's your wife. 

JACOB 

- - old independence gone - - like a different person - - more 
like a mother than a wife - - both kids coming home this 
afternoon - - semester break - - convinced her to go - - get 
something special - - My one chance - - can't you see? (Pause.) 
Only you can help me - - you know Esther wouldn't - - 

ALAN 

Esther loves you. 

JACOB 

Please, Alan, I need your help! 

ALAN 

And I love you, too. 

JACOB 

If you really love me - - help me out - - 

ALAN 

Sorry, Jacob. I could never stoop to being instrumental in 
causing your death. You have too much to live for. 

JACOB 

No! 



12 



LOOKING BACK: Four Flays 

ALAN 

And as a doctor, I'm sworn to help preserve life rather than 
end it. 

JACOB 

There are exceptions - - as a doctor who really cares - - 

ALAN 

Believe me, Jacob, I really care about you. 

JACOB 

(Pause.) 
And as a Jew? 

ALAN 

What do you mean? 

JACOB 

As a Jew - - you'd be obeying an important commandment 
- - Remember what we learned - - Hebrew school? - - 
Book of Leviticus - - "And you shall love your fellow Jew 
like yourself." - - one of the Taryag Mitzvot - - the 613 
commandments listed by Maimonides - - Taking a fellow Jew 
out of his misery - - you'd be doing a real mitzvah! 

ALAN 

Sorry, Jacob, I can't. 

JACOB 

As a man? 

ALAN 

What are you talking about? 



13 



EMPATHY 

JACOB 

As a man - - as a human being - - plain and simple - - 
Where's your empathy for - - a suffering soul? 

ALAN 

Believe me, Jacob, my heart goes out to you. 

MAYA 

On the Sabbath we always went to temple, like a good Jewish 
family should, and after the service there was usually a 
Kiddush, a reception, for the whole congregation, with lots of 
food in honor of someone or other who was deceased but was 
still remembered by someone else. Sometimes it occurred to 
me that maybe people came to temple on the Sabbath just so 
they could gorge themselves at the Kiddush. If you only saw 
the way they used to bump into each other with their plastic 
utensils and plastic plates as they rushed back and forth to the 
buffet table! 

JACOB 

Please, Alan - - 

ALAN 

Look Jacob, you're a loved and gifted man. Once you get over 
your depression, you'll see your way clearly to using your 
gifts again. 

JACOB 

Never! 

MAYA 

There wasn't much time for Jacob to practice piano on the 
Sabbath. Actually, come to think of it, Jacob couldn't practice 
on the Sabbath anyway because it was the Sabbath and 
playing the piano on the Sabbath is forbidden because in the 



14 



LOOKING BACK: Four Plays 

Jewish tradition playing the piano is considered work and 
you're not allowed to work on the Sabbath. You're supposed 
to be like God, who created the world and then rested on the 
seventh day. 

ALAN 

I hope you give serious thought to seeing a psychiatrist. It 
could be very helpful. 

JACOB 

When have I ever begged you to do something? - - begging you 
now - - were kids together - - always been my best friend - - 

ALAN 

Yes. (Pause.) I still remember all those Sundays I spent at 
your house, just listening to you playing the piano from 
morning until evening. After all the school and homework, 
after all the temple receptions and all the other mundane 
happenings of the week, what a delight it was to leave all 
that behind and just allow your music to wash over me. I 
especially loved it when you played Mozart. So joyous, so 
uplifting! I still cherish those memories. My childhood - 
indeed my life - would not have been as rich if you had not 
been my friend, Jacob, and I can never thank you enough. 
The least I owe you is to encourage you to live. 

The sound of early Mozart piano music, lightly and evenly 
played, is heard. After a minute or two, the music fades away. 

MAYA 

I never told anyone but I think you in the audience should 
know. Alan was like a second son to me, the second son 
I couldn't have. He and Jacob loved each other like two 
brothers. 



15 



EMPATHY 

JACOB 

If I can't count on you now, Alan - - what good is our 
friendship? 

ALAN 

(Pause.) 
Listen, Jacob. I have some patients coming to the office so I 
have to run. I'll talk to you later. 

ALAN exits through the exterior door at stage left. JACOB 
bursts into tears. There is the sound of a car door being 
slammed and, a moment later, ESTHER appears at the 
exterior door, carrying a bag of groceries. JACOB quickly 
wipes off his tears with his good right hand. 

ESTHER 

Who was that I just saw driving away? 

JACOB 

Alan. 

ESTHER 

I thought so but I wasn't sure. His car was too far down the 
street when I pulled in. (Pause.) What a good friend you have 
in Alan! See, the world is not as bleak as you've been making 
it out to be. You have good friends. You have a family. And 
you know what the Jewish tradition values above all - family 
and friends. 

MAYA 

I'm so glad Esther is back. Maybe she can talk some sense 
into Jacob. I'm worried about him. 

JACOB 

Beginning to think - - Alan isn't much of a friend. 



16 



LOOKING BACK: Four Flays 

ESTHER 

Jacob! How can you say that? He's been your friend since 
childhood! 

JACOB 

Please, Esther. 

ESTHER 

He was the best man, at our wedding. He's been our family 
doctor all these years. He took care of our kids when they were 
sick. Through thick and thin, he's always been there for us. 

JACOB 

So? 

ESTHER 

I just thought I'd make the point. 

JACOB 

That's your point of view. 

ESTHER 

It's the right point of view. 

JACOB 

Look, Esther, I'm entitled to my own point of view - - don't 
have to follow the "right" point of view, whatever that is - - 1 
can think for myself. (Pause.) 

ESTHER puts the bag of groceries on the coffee table and 
seats herself on the sofa.. 

ESTHER 

Isn't it wonderful the kids are coming home today? (Pause.) 
Can't wait to see them. I sure miss them when they're away. 



17 



EMPATHY 

(Pause.) We haven't seen them since right after your stroke. 
How long has it been now? About ten weeks, right? (Pause.) 
Wasn't it wonderful of them to drop everything right in the 
middle of their semester and fly in just so they could visit you 
at the hospital? Ben was right in the midst of his law school 
research papers. I still remember my law school days. Taking 
time off was out of the question. And my students, too. I don't 
know how many of them would take time off. They're so 
competitive they'd never allow anything to slow them down, 
not even family. And Becky had all those college essays to 
write. Remember? (Pause.) They were certainly concerned 
about you. (Pause.) They probably never even heard of a 
stroke before. How would they? I don't believe they ever 
knew anyone who had a stroke. None of their grandparents 
did. Their grandparents all died of other causes. 

MAYA 

You know what they say about mothers-in-law and daughters- 
in-law, about how they're always fighting. Well, that wasn't 
true in our case. I always liked Esther, ever since I first laid 
eyes on her, when she was just a little girl. She was a few 
years younger than Jacob, but our families saw each other 
regularly at the temple on the Sabbath, and that's how Jacob 
and Esther first got to know each other. Did I mention that 
Esther's father was the rabbi at our temple? He was a very 
learned man. And Esther took after him. She was very smart 
in school, and later in college and in law school. 

ESTHER 

The kids probably thought you were about to die. (Pause.) 
They were so relieved to see that you survived the stroke, that 
you were still alive. (Pause.) What great kids we have! You 
can be proud of them. (Pause.) 



18 



LOOKING BACK: Four Flays 

MAYA 

I couldn't have a second son, but at least when Jacob married 
Esther, I got myself a daughter. When they got married, after 
she graduated from law school, she took good care of Jacob 
even though she had a career. She cooked and cleaned and 
did all her other wifely duties without ever complaining. 
And later she took time off to have Ben and Becky, and she 
stayed home to take care of them until they started school. 
She always had her priorities straight, that's for sure. She 
must have gotten her values from her father, the rabbi. Not 
like some of those mothers you hear about these days; the last 
thing they want to do is take care of their family. Now I ask 
you: What is life about if not family? 

ESTHER 

Oh, dear, I nearly forgot. I'd better put the groceries away. 
I got some ice cream for the kids, and if I don't put it in the 
freezer, it's going to melt. 

ESTHER gets up, picks up the grocery bag and walks 
nonchalantly past the piano, exiting at stage right. A moment 
later, BEN, carrying a duffle bag, walks in through the 
exterior door at stage left. He sees JACOB, drops his duffle 
and rushes over to hug his father. They embrace. 

BEN 

How're you doing, Dad? 

JACOB 

Don't know. 

ESTHER comes in through the door at stage right. 



19 



EMPATHY 

ESTHER 

I thought I heard something. Ben! How are you, son? (Walks 
over and they embrace.) How was your trip? 

BEN 

Fine. No delays. Plenty of cabs at Logan. 

ESTHER 

And how is law school? 

BEN 

Lots of work. But I'm enjoying it. Learning a lot. 

ESTHER 

Good! (Spots his duffle.) I'll bet you brought some laundry 
for me to do. (Picks up his duffle.) I'll get you something to 
eat. You're probably famished by now. 

BEN 

Yes, kind of. Thanks! 

ESTHER 

Maybe you can talk your dad into eating something. He 
hasn't been eating lately. 

ESTHER exits at stage right, carrying BEN'S duffle. BEN 
seats himself on the sofa. 

BEN 

So how are you doing, Dad? 

JACOB 

See for yourself. 



20 



LOOKING BACK: Four Plays 

MAYA 

What a nice boy Ben turned out to be. I know he's not exactly 
like Jacob. He never took to the piano, although, God knows, 
we tried to get him interested when he was little. Actually - 
and I hate to admit it - he can't even sing in tune. But at least 
he took after Esther, and that's nothing to sneeze at. He's very 
smart and doing well in law school and will have a wonderful 
career. But most importantly, he's devoted to his family and 
that's the main thing. How many kids are devoted to their 
family these days? Ben's got his values straight. 

BEN 

You're looking good, Dad. How's your leg doing? 

JACOB 

Better. 

BEN 

Did you get some physical therapy or what? 

JACOB 

Yes. The therapist - - gave me leg exercises - - left leg not 
quite back to normal - - at least I can walk now. 

BEN 

So why are you still in a wheelchair? 

JACOB 

Mom feels safer that way - - afraid I'll fall and hurt myself- - 

BEN 

Maybe it would be better if you walked around more so you 
could get some exercise. 



21 



EMPATHY 

JACOB 

Tell your mom that - - I'm tired of arguing - - trying not to 
sweat the small stuff. 

BEN 

As opposed to? 

JACOB 

Don't know. Other stuff. 

BEN 

Like what? 

JACOB 

Mom wants me - - to see a shrink. 

BEN 

Are you serious? I didn't know she believes in shrinks. She 
always seemed to think they're charlatans, like the sorcerers 
of old. 

JACOB 

Guess she's changed her mind. 

BEN 

But why? 

JACOB 

She says I'm depressed. 

BEN 

And are you? 



22 



LOOKING BACK: Four Plays 

JACOB 

Of course I am - - in my shoes, who wouldn't be? - - can't 
play the piano any more. (JACOB wheels himself to the piano 
and, with great effort, raises his left arm. His hand falls 
dead on the piano, creating a loud, jarring sound. He pushes 
himself away from the piano and turns to face BEN.) See? 

BEN 

(Looking at JACOB 'S left hand.) 
How about occupational therapy or whatever it's called? 
Wouldn't that help your hand? 

JACOB 

Had it - - Mom even did the hand exercises with me - - it's all 
been futile. 

BEN 

Are you serious? 

JACOB 

Even the best therapist - - the most devoted wife - - can't 
revive a dead hand. 

BEN 

That's awful! I know how important playing the piano is to 
you. I remember how you always played for hours and hours 
on end. The best thing was listening to you playing at night, 
when I was going to sleep. It was like listening to the most 
beautiful lullaby, a different lullaby every night. All that Bach 
and Handel. I loved falling asleep listening to you. 

JACOB 

Strange - - never realized you were listening - - guess I was 
just engrossed in my playing - - didn't think of anything else. 



23 



EMPATHY 

The sound of Bach piano music, impeccably played, is heard, 
with the notes even and distinct. After a minute or two, the 
music fades away. 

BEN 

I liked Bach best. His music was always so reassuring. It gave 
me the feeling that the world is orderly, that everything in the 
world is in its place, that right is right and wrong is wrong. 

JACOB 

Maybe that's - - what drew you to the law. 

BEN 

Maybe that, and Mom being a lawyer, too. I always admired 
not only her accomplishments but her clear thinking. 

MAYA 

See, I told you. Ben takes after his mother. But that's okay. 
Not everyone has to be a musician. Can you imagine if 
everyone in the world was a musician and there were no 
lawyers around? 

BEN 

What does the doctor say? 

JACOB 

He said if my hand wasn't better - - six or eight weeks after 
the stroke - - nothing will help. 

BEN 

Nothing? 

JACOB 

Nothing. 



24 



LOOKING BACK: Four Plays 

BEN 

Maybe you should get a second opinion. 

JACOB 

Got a second opinion - - even a third - - nothing can be done 
this long after a stroke - - All the doctors agree on that. 

BEN 

(Pause.) 
Maybe it's time for you to get rid of the piano, Dad. 

MAYA 

Oh, dear! Ben means well, I'm sure. He loves his father. But I 
hope he doesn't press Jacob on this. Even if Jacob can't play, 
the piano still holds wonderful memories for him. 

BEN 

Just so you won't be constantly reminded of the way you used 
to play. 

MAYA 

I still remember when we first got the grand piano for Jacob. 
Actually, it's the piano you see right here. He took it with 
him when he and Esther got married. Of course Jacob's first 
piano was an upright. But then, seeing how devoted he was 
to music, we got him a grand piano for his Bar Mitzvah. You 
can't compare the sound you get out of a grand piano to what 
you get from an upright. That open lid on the grand piano 
gives the music such a richness of sound that just listening to 
it you feel like you're in another world. 

JACOB 

Wouldn't want to part with my piano, Ben - - See that open 
lid? - - always looked to me like a bird's wing - - It's been 
a symbol - - my own ability to transcend the mundane. - - 



25 



EMPATHY 

Maybe you won't understand - - 1 want to have my piano 
around - - open lid - - until the very end. 

BEN 

I see. (Pause.) Well, at least you can still teach music, right? 
Your mental faculties haven't been impaired, or your speech, 
either. You can still talk and guide your students. 

JACOB 

I need to be able to play. 

BEN 

For teaching? 

JACOB 

Not for teaching - - for me - - 1 can't live without making 
music - - It's who I am. Without my music - - 1 am nothing. 

BEN 

Oh, Dad! How can you say that? I know how you love 
playing the piano, but that's a far cry from being nothing if 
you can't play. You are a wonderful husband, a wonderful 
father, a wonderful, kind human being. 

JACOB 

If I'm so wonderful - - why have I been punished? 

BEN 

I don't think you should view your stroke as a punishment. 
There's no accounting for these things. Bad things just 
happen, even to good people. The world is not the kind of 
ideal place that Bach's music made me think of when I was 
little and listened to you playing. 



26 



LOOKING BACK: Four Piays 

JACOB 

(Pause.) 
I really don't want to live - - this way. 

BEN 

I hope you're not contemplating suicide, Dad. 

JACOB 

I must confess - - thought of it. 

BEN 

And? 

JACOB 

I need help - - could starve myself - - would take too long - - 
don't know if I could withstand hunger and thirst - - for as 
long as it takes - - would much prefer to get something I can 
take - - a pill or an injection or something - - that will put me 
out of this - - in short order - - Can't do it with Mom around 

- - she's been watching me 'round the clock - - she suspects 
something - - of course I didn't tell her - - she'd fight it tooth 
and nails. 

BEN 

Of course she would. 

JACOB 

(Pause.) 
Maybe you can - - get her out of the house - - for a few hours 

- - so I can take care of it - - Maybe a movie or something. 

BEN 

For God's sake, Dad. I can't believe my ears. Are you asking 
me to aid and abet in the suicide of my own father? 



27 



EMPATHY 

JACOB 

You wouldn't be aiding and abetting - - just taking your mom 
to a movie. 

BEN 

If I took her to a movie under the circumstances, I'd be aiding 
and abetting. I'd be breaking the law. 

JACOB 

You'd just be getting - - an obstacle - - out of the way. 

BEN 

I would be considered to have assisted in a suicide. And 
assisting in a suicide is a crime in almost all states. 

JACOB 

How about Massachusetts? 

BEN 

Including Massachusetts. 

JACOB 

A progressive state - - with such an unenlightened view! 

BEN 

And I'm sure you'll agree that committing a crime is not a 
good thing for someone who aspires to be a lawyer to do. 

JACOB 

I thought suicide is no longer - - a crime in the United States 
- - don't know how it could ever have been a crime - - What 
would the government do? - - Punish a man after he's killed 
himself? 



28 



LOOKING BACK.: Four Plays 

BEN 

In western cultures, suicide has historically been considered 
a crime. It was unfavorably regarded even before Christianity 
took hold in western civilization. Do you know that as far 
back as ancient Athens, a person who committed suicide was 
denied the honor of a normal burial? That person would be 
buried alone, on the outskirts of the city, without a headstone 
or even a marker. 

JACOB 

Wouldn't worry about that. 

BEN 

In France in the 17 th century, the punishment was even more 
severe. A criminal ordinance issued by King Louis XIV 
provided that a person who committed suicide would have 
his body drawn face down through the streets, and then hung 
and thrown on a garbage heap. In addition, all of the person's 
property would be forfeited. 

JACOB 

Leave it to the French. 

BEN 

The same was true in English law. All suicides carried 
automatic forfeiture penalties. Suicide was considered "a 
felony of a man's self and prohibited by common law. And 
of course American law is based on English law. 

JACOB 

I see. 

BEN 

And if the suicide was not successful, the person attempting 
it could be prosecuted for attempted suicide. 



29 



EMPATHY 

JACOB 

That just underscores - - the importance of being successful 
- - in trying to commit suicide - - as in everything else. 

BEN 

Or, better yet, not trying to do it at all. 

JACOB 

I really don't understand - - why the state has to meddle in 
these things - - What interest does it have - - compelling 
people to remain alive? The constitution guarantees the right 
to life, liberty - - and the pursuit of happiness - - If I'm unable 
to pursue happiness - - therefore don't want to live - - why 
should the state act to preserve my life? 

BEN 

It's the law, Dad, and we have to abide by the law. Maybe 
some day the law will change, but until it does, we have to 
obey it. 

MAYA 

See? I told you. Ben will make a great lawyer. 

ESTHER walks in from stage right. 

ESTHER 

I prepared a tuna sandwich and some cold milk for you, Ben. 
They're on the kitchen table. And there's ice cream, too. I'm 
going to take care of your laundry now. 

BEN and ESTHER exit at stage right. JACOB is seated in his 
wheelchair as before, his left arm dangling, his head now 
lowered. After a while, ESTHER walks in carrying a tray of 
food through the door at stage right and places the tray on 
the coffee table in front of the sofa. 



30 



LOOKING BACK: Four Flays 

ESTHER 

Ben's gone out to see some friends. What did you two talk 
about? 

JACOB 

About the law - - Ben seems very interested - - 

ESTHER 

Of course. That's why he's in law school. (Pointing to the 
food on the tray.) I thought you'd be hungry by now. 

JACOB 

Actually, I'm not. 

ESTHER 

I made you your favorite, grilled cheese on raisin toast. 

MAYA 

Sounds almost as good as my cheese blintzes. 

JACOB 

Not hungry. 

ESTHER 

You have to eat. 

JACOB 

I don't have to if I don't want to. 

ESTHER 

You know you can't just starve yourself to death. 

JACOB 

Please, Esther - - 1 can starve myself if I want to. 



31 



EMPATHY 

ESTHER 

How about a glass of milk? I brought you some nice, cold 
milk. 

JACOB 

No, thanks - - I'm not thirsty. 

ESTHER 

(Seating herself on the sofa and reaching for her sandwich.) 
Look, Jacob, think about the bright side. The stroke could 
have been much worse. It could have killed you right there 
and then, on the spot. Or it could have affected your mind, 
made you a vegetable. Think about how awful that would 
have been, to have you just lying there, like a vegetable. I 
think we should thank God that in His great mercy He spared 
us any of that. 

ESTHER begins eating her sandwich. 

JACOB 

God! 

ESTHER 

Actually, it was a miracle that you were in class when it 
happened and that your student was alert enough to notice 
there was something wrong and called an ambulance. A few 
moments might have made all the difference in the world. 
God works in mysterious ways. 

JACOB 

God, God, God! - - Why do you keep bringing God into 
this? - - "God's miracle!" - - "God's mercy!" - - Don't you 
realize how absurd this talk about God is - - under the 
circumstances? 



32 



LOOKING BACK : Four Flays 

ESTHER 

What are you saying, Jacob? You've always been a believer! 

JACOB 

It's pretty hard to be a believer - - when you've had a stroke. 

ESTHER 

For Heaven's sake, Jacob. You can't mean that! 

JACOB 

If there were a God, a kind, just, merciful God - - the type of 
God worth believing in - - He wouldn't let bad things happen 
to good people. 

ESTHER 

Maybe He's just testing us. 

JACOB 

Testing us? 

ESTHER 

Why not? This wouldn't be the first time in history that 
God has tested His chosen people. Remember the story 
of Abraham the Patriarch? How God commanded him to 
sacrifice his beloved son, Isaac? Abraham and his wife, 
Sarah, waited for years to have a child and they finally did 
when they were both very old. And when Isaac was just a 
young boy, suddenly God commanded Abraham to take the 
child up the mountain, build an altar and sacrifice his beloved 
son to prove his own unwavering faith in God. And do you 
remember how Abraham was ready, able and willing to 
sacrifice Isaac just to show God the strength of his faith? He 
even proceeded to tie Isaac down on the altar and had all the 
kindling wood ready. And it was only when God saw how 
much faith Abraham had in Him - such great faith that he was 



33 



EMPATHY 

willing to sacrifice his own beloved son just because God had 
commanded him to do so - that God sent a ram for Abraham 
to sacrifice instead of his son. It was just a test and Abraham 
stood the test. 

JACOB 

I always found that story disturbing - - God demanding that a 
parent sacrifice his child - -just to prove a point. 

MAYA 

I understand what Jacob is saying. And actually I agree 
with him. As a mother, I'm not sure I would obey God if He 
asked me to sacrifice my child the way He asked Abraham 
to sacrifice Isaac. How could a Jewish parent make such 
a sacrifice? The Ten Commandments say you have to 
honor your father and your mother. How can a child honor 
his parents if the parents don't honor him enough to do 
everything in their power to make sure he lives? 

ESTHER 

It was an important point God wanted Abraham to prove. 
Faith in God is important. It gives us the strength we might 
not otherwise have to go through life's trials and tribulations. 
Do you remember the story of Job? That good and decent man 
was also tested by God. Remember how Job had seven sons 
and three daughters and a vast fortune? He was the richest man 
of his day as well as the most righteous. And just to test him, 
God killed all ten of Job's children and destroyed his fortune 
and even inflicted on Job a terrible sickness. As I recall, Job 
was stricken with hideous, painful boils. Yet Job persevered in 
his faith in God, although it certainly wasn't easy. And then, 
finally, God realized how faithful Job had been to Him through 
thick and thin and He restored Job's fortunes and cured him of 
his sickness and even allowed him to have ten additional kids, 
to replace the ones who had perished. 



34 



LOOKING BACK: Four Plays 

JACOB 

Did you say - - "to replace the ones who had perished"? 

ESTHER 

Yes. Don't you remember the story? 

JACOB 

And to you it's the mark of a God - - worthy of worship? 

ESTHER 

Why not? That's the point in the story. That God is just. That 
He rewards people for their faith in Him. 

JACOB 

After He first punishes them. 

ESTHER 

But that's how He tests them. 

JACOB 

It never made sense to me - - that the second set of kids was 
an adequate replacement - - for Job's first ten children. 

ESTHER 

Maybe not. But restorative justice is never perfect. Maybe 
even God can only do His best. 

MAYA 

Maybe Esther is right after all. She knows a lot about 
Judaism. Don't forget, her father was a rabbi. 

JACOB 

And how about all the physical suffering Job had to endure? 
- - The boils? The excruciating pain? - - Could the experience 
of all that pain ever be erased from Job's memory? - - As 



35 



EMPATHY 

I recall, when he was suffering all that pain - - Job's wife 
advised him to curse God and be done with it. - - She was 
hoping that if Job cursed God - - that God would strike him 
down - - and end his suffering. - - 1 think Job's wife really felt 
for her husband - - she saw God in a truer light than Job did. 

MAYA 

Now Jacob is making more sense. Why would God let good 
people suffer? 

ESTHER 

Job was wise enough to ignore her advice. And he was 
rewarded by God for his persistent faith. 

JACOB 

I wouldn't have wanted to go on living if I were in Job's shoes 
- - 1 would have given up. 

ESTHER 

I know. That's the problem. You're too prone to give up. 

JACOB 

If I were Job - - 1 would have committed suicide. 

ESTHER 

For God's sake, Jacob. Don't say that! Suicide is not an 
option. 

MAYA 

Now Esther is making more sense again. She can't allow my 
son to commit suicide! He has too much to live for. He has a 
family. 

JACOB 

Why not? 



36 



LOOKING BACK.: Four Flays 

ESTHER 

Don't you know how suicide has been viewed throughout 
our people's history? The duty of preserving life is one of 
the basic tenets of Judaism. And the proscription of suicide 
is just a corollary to that duty. Don't forget that at first God 
created only a single human being in the world: Adam. God 
only created Adam to teach us that if any person has caused 
a single soul to perish, God regards that person as if he 
had caused the whole world to perish. And, of course, the 
corollary is also true: If any human being saves a single soul, 
God regards him as if he saved the whole entire world. 

JACOB 

Suicide is nowhere forbidden in the Old Testament. - - It's not 
in the Ten Commandments. 

ESTHER 

Maybe not explicitly, but it's analogous to murder. The sixth 
commandment says, "Thou shalt not kill." 

JACOB 

There's a big difference between - - committing suicide and 
committing murder. - - In suicide you don't hurt anybody else 
- - you just end your own life. 

ESTHER 

Actually, murder and suicide are very similarly viewed in the 
Jewish tradition. In both instances, the sovereignty of God 
is deemed to be denied. In Judaism, the giving and taking of 
life is exclusively the domain of God. A person doesn't have a 
proprietary interest in his life. 

JACOB 

I see we're back to God again. 



37 



EMPATHY 

ESTHER 

Suicide is considered to be a grave sin in Judaism because it's 
a denial that human life is a divine gift. Suicide defies God's 
will for each person to live the life span allotted to him. 

JACOB 

There you go again. 

ESTHER 

All life is deemed to belong to Him, and its beginning and 
end are to be only in His hands. Do you remember that 
saying from the Ethics of the Fathers? It goes something like: 
"Despite yourself you were fashioned, and despite yourself 
you were born, and despite yourself you live, and despite 
yourself you die, and despite yourself you will hereafter 
have account and reckoning before the King of Kings, 
the Holy One, blessed be He." Actually, traditionally in 
Judaism, no rites were to be performed in honor of those who 
took their own lives, and the bodies of Jews who committed 
suicide were buried on the outskirts of a Jewish cemetery, 
rather than inside it. 

JACOB 

I wouldn't be concerned about that. 

MAYA 

Jacob, darling. Don't be stubborn like your father! Listen to 
your wife! 

ESTHER 

And don't forget that according to the Jewish tradition, someone 
who commits suicide forfeits his possibility of an afterlife. 

MAYA 

Jacob, listen to her! She's warning you! 



38 



LOOKING BACK: Four Plays 

JACOB 

At this point - - 1 wouldn't be concerned about that, either. 

ESTHER 

(Pause.) 
Jacob, I think you're depressed. 

JACOB 

Of course I am. - - 1 have reason to be. 

ESTHER 

Maybe you should see a shrink. 

JACOB 

I don't want anyone messing with my mind. 

ESTHER 

(Pause.) 
How about having your sandwich and milk after all? 

JACOB 

No, thanks - - don't have an appetite. 

BECKY, carrying a duffle bag, walks in through the exterior 
door at stage left. She notices JACOB, drops her duffle and 
rushes over to hug her father. They embrace. JACOB bursts 
into tears. 

BECKY 

Don't cry, Dad. Please don't cry. It makes me so sad to see 
you cry. I don't think I've ever seen you cry, Dad. Aren't you 
happy to see me? 

JACOB wipes away his tears. 



39 



EMPATHY 

JACOB 

You know I am - - Becky - - love you! 

ESTHER gets up from the sofa. 

ESTHER 

Becky! How are you? (She walks over to BECKY and they 
embrace.) How was your trip? 

BECKY 

Fine. Glad to be home. Did Ben get back yet? 

ESTHER 

Yes, he's out to see some friends. He should be back before 
too long. 

BECKY 

Can't wait to see him. 

ESTHER 

I know. You two are so close although your personalities are 
so different. (Pause.) Tell me, Becky, how is college? Are you 
enjoying your art classes? 

BECKY 

Love them. Especially the painting class. We have a great 
professor. He's all about using the tools of art for self 
expression. 

ESTHER 

Good! (Pause.) I'll get you something to eat. Maybe you can 
talk your dad into having something, too, even if it's just a 
glass of milk. He's been on a hunger strike. 



40 



LOOKING BACK: Four Plays 

ESTHER picks up the tray and BECKY'S duffle and exits at 
stage right. 

BECKY 

(Stroking JACOB 'S head.) 
What's that about you not eating, Dad? Is that true? (Studies 
him.) You do seem a bit thinner than I remember. 

MAYA 

What a lovely young lady Becky turned out to be, don't you 
think? She's pretty and smart, but the main thing is, she's 
devoted to her family. What they call "a nice Jewish girl." 
You can feel how much she loves her father. 

JACOB 

Don't have an appetite - - sitting around like this - - 

BECKY 

Have you been sitting in the wheelchair a lot? 

JACOB 

Most of my waking hours - - Mom thinks it's safer. 

BECKY 

How's your leg? 

JACOB 

Much better - - a bit unsteady on my feet - - basically, I can 
walk. 

BECKY 

So why does Mom want you to stay in the wheelchair? 
Doesn't make sense to me. Come. Let's walk. (Pointing to the 
wheelchair.) Is this thing locked? 



41 



EMPATHY 

JACOB 



Yes, it is. 



BECKY 

Good. I'll help you get up and we can walk a little together. 
(Bends down and helps JACOB stand up.) Here. Hold on to 
me. (Extends her left elbow and JACOB grasps it with his 
right hand.) Let's walk around a bit. 

JACOB 

Okay. 

JACOB and BECKY walk slowly around the living room, with 
JACOB limping while holding fast onto BECKY. 

MAYA 

See? That's the way daughters are. They're as close to their 
father as boys are to their mother. How lucky Jacob is to have 
a daughter! (Pause.) I still remember how close I was to my 
own father. He was a rabbi, you know, a wonderful man, 
not only learned but kind, very kind. Even people who were 
not members of our congregation - total strangers - would 
come over to our house to seek his help, and he spared them 
nothing. They were always welcome at our table. (Pause.) 
Would you believe I still miss him? Not a day goes by 
that I don't think about my dear father. And I'm already a 
grandmother! 

BECKY 

You're doing great, Dad. You should walk around more often, 
just for the exercise. (They arrive at the piano.) And how is 
your playing? 

JACOB 

Can't play any more. 



42 



LOOKING BACK: Four Flays 

BECKY 



Show me! 



BECKY pulls the piano stool over so it stands in front of the 
piano, then helps JACOB sit on it. 

JACOB 

I mean it - - really can't play. 

BECKY 

Please, Dad. I want to hear you play. 

JACOB 

You sure? 

BECKY 

Oh, Dad! How can you ask? One of the fondest memories I 
have of growing up in this house is listening to you play the 
piano at all hours of the day and night. You always played so 
beautifully, so expressively, I'll never forget it. I especially 
loved listening to you at night, just before I went to sleep. 
It was like listening to a lullaby. I loved all that Schumann 
and Chopin you used to play. Especially the Chopin. So 
emotional. So romantic So touching. 

A Chopin nocturne is heard in the background. JACOB and 
BECKY listen and look at each other fondly. 

JACOB 

Maybe that's when you decided - - to become an artist. 

BECKY 

I wouldn't be surprised. Your playing was so expressive, it 
always moved me so. It was downright inspirational. 



43 



EMPATHY 

JACOB 

And to think - - 1 didn't even realize you were listening! - - 1 
guess I was oblivious to everything - - just playing for myself. 

BECKY 

I always felt like you were speaking directly to me with your 
music. 



Oh, Becky! 



Play a little, Dad. 



I told you I can't 



JACOB 



BECKY 



JACOB 



BECKY 

Just try. Please. For me, Dad. Just try. 

JACOB plays some Chopin music with his right hand, with 
BECKY standing beside him, watching happily. 

BECKY 

Beautiful. Beautiful! Now try with both hands. 

JACOB 

I can't. 

BECKY 

Please, Dad. Just try it. For me. 

JACOB straightens up on his stool With great effort, he 
raises his left arm. His left hand falls dead on the piano, 
creating a loud, shrill sound. 



44 



LOOKING BACK: Four Plays 

BECKY 

(Looking at JACOB 'S left hand.) 
Oh, Dad. I'm so sorry. I didn't realize it was that bad. How 
stupid of me! Please forgive me. (She bursts into tears.) 

JACOB tries to get off the stool and BECKY helps him up. 
She wipes away her tears as they walk together slowly 
and BECKY helps JACOB into the wheelchair. She strokes 
JACOB'S head, then walks over to the sofa and sits down. 

BECKY 

Have you had therapy for your hand? 

JACOB 

Physical and occupational - - lots of it - - none of it worked - - 
maybe a slight improvement in the gross motion of my fingers 
- - none at all in the finger dexterity required for playing the 
piano. - - As far as piano playing - - my left hand is dead - - 

BECKY 

Oh man! Please don't say that. Don't use that word. It scares 
me. 

JACOB 

Sorry, Becky - - have to call the shots the way I see them - - 
was never one to beat about the bush - - You know that. 

BECKY 

I assume you spoke to the doctor. 



Yes. 



And what did he say? 



JACOB 



BECKY 



45 



EMPATHY 

JACOB 

If there was no improvement in the finger dexterity - - in six 
or eight weeks after the stroke - - it's hopeless. 

BECKY 

And how long has it been now since your stroke? 

JACOB 

Ten weeks. 

BECKY 

You know what they say. It's good to get a second opinion. 

JACOB 

Got a second opinion - - even got a third one. - - All the 
doctors agree - - it's hopeless. 

BECKY 

Oh, Dad. I'm so sorry. What are we going to do? 

JACOB 

That is the question. 

MAYA 

Becky really understands Jacob. She knows how he feels. 
After all, she's an artist, too, and she knows how artists feel 
when they're no longer able to express themselves through 
their art. Notice she said, "What are we going to do?" and not 
"What are you going to do?" She has taken Jacob's suffering 
to heart. She feels his pain. That's what is called "empathy," 
isn't it? 

BECKY 

Well, let's try to analyze the situation. I assume you can still 
teach. And I know how much you love teaching. 



46 



LOOKING BACK: Four Plays 

JACOB 



I do. 



BECKY 

But I also know that teaching alone wouldn't be satisfying 
enough for you, just as teaching art would not be as satisfying 
for me as painting. Because artists need to express themselves 
through their art. I understand that. 

JACOB 

Remarkable insight - - 

BECKY 

For the same reason, I'm sure just listening to music wouldn't 
satisfy you. 

JACOB 

That's true. (Pause.) Becky darling - - I'm amazed to see - - 
how well you understand me. - - Actually, "amazed" is not 
the right word - - "gratified" is better - - I'm gratified that you 
understand how I feel - - don't think anyone else understands 
- - seems you and I have always had a special bond - - as if 
we could read each other's mind - - without even talking. 

BECKY 

Maybe because we're both artists. 

JACOB 

Wouldn't be surprised. 

BECKY 

I love you, Dad. Do you think that composing music might 
satisfy you? 



47 



EMPATHY 

JACOB 

Maybe. As you know - - have done some composing over 
the years - - certainly enjoyed it - - but it's hard to compose 
if you can't actually play - - listen to your composition 
as you're going along. - - In the past, I've mainly found 
fulfillment - - interpreting other people's great music. 
- - Like a movie or stage director - - who brings his 
interpretation of a story to life. - - The director doesn't 
write the story - - he has a vision of a story that someone 
else wrote - - tries to bring forth that vision. - - There have 
been some great composers in the history of music. - - I've 
always loved getting to the bottom of their music - - and 
expressing my vision of it by playing. 

BECKY 

And you've been great at doing it, that's for sure. But if you 
can no longer do it, we need to find another way. (Pause.) 
You don't seem happy, Dad. You were always so happy and I 
want you to be happy again. 



I know. 



Because I love you. 



I love you too, Becky. 



JACOB 



BECKY 



JACOB 



BECKY 

So what are we going to do? What is the answer? I'm trying 
to think of an answer. 



48 



LOOKING BACK: Four Plays 

JACOB 

I've only been able to come up with one answer, Becky. - - 
Hard as I've tried not to think of it - - 1 come back to it again 
and again. 

BECKY 

And what is that answer? 

JACOB 

(Pause.) 
That I simply bow out. 

BECKY 

No, Dad. No! You can't do that. You can't just bow out. 

BECKY gets up, walks over to JACOB and hugs him. They 
embrace. 

JACOB 

I love you, Becky. 

JACOB bursts into tears. BECKY stands beside her father 
and strokes his head. 

BECKY 

Look, Dad. You have a loving family. A loving wife, a loving 
son and a loving daughter. Each and every one of us would be 
devastated if you were gone. Don't you realize that? 

JACOB 

That does make it harder. 



49 



EMPATHY 

BECKY 

Just speaking for myself, I know I would have a very difficult 
time going on if I didn't know that you were always there 
for me. If I couldn't just call you on the phone and speak to 
you and tell you what's on my mind and have you listen and 
understand and be supportive. You've always been there for 
me, Dad, and I can't imagine not having you around any 
more. I'm only nineteen years old, much too young to be an 
orphan, or even half a one. I need you as much now as I ever 
did. And some day I'll get married and I want you to meet 
my man and be there at our wedding and I want you to get to 
know my children and I want my children to get to know you. 

JACOB 

I've always looked forward to that. 

BECKY 

And of course none of it would be possible if you simply 
"bowed out" as you call it. You have to be strong, Dad. I 
think that's what being a dad is all about. Being there for your 
family because you love them and they love you. 

MAYA 

I told you, Becky is something else. She understands things 
far beyond her years. What a wonderful daughter Jacob has! 

ESTHER walks in from stage right. 

ESTHER 

Becky, I prepared a cheese sandwich for you and some cold 
milk. They're in the kitchen. And there's ice cream, too, I'm 
going to do your laundry now. 

BECKY gives JACOB a hug ESTHER and BECKY exit at 
stage right. Time passes. JACOB is seated in his wheelchair 



50 



LOOKING BACK : Four Flays 

as before, his head down. BEN and BECKY enter the 
room through the door at stage right. JACOB sits up in his 
wheelchair when he hears them come in. BEN and BECKY 
walk up to JACOB and hug him in turn. 

JACOB 

(Noticing their jackets.) 
You two going out? 

BEN 

Yes. We thought we'd catch up on things. 

BECKY 

Hope you don't mind, Dad. It's been weeks since Ben and 
I were together. There's nothing like higher education to 
separate siblings. 

BEN 

How true! 

ESTHER enters from stage right. 

ESTHER 

Have a good time, kids. But remember, don't stay out too late. 
You've both had a long day. And yes, Ben, drive carefully. I 
don't want you to wreck Dad's car. 

JACOB 

Or get hurt. 

MAYA 

Amen. 

BEN 

Okay 



51 



EMPATHY 

BEN and BECKY exit through the door at stage left. 

ESTHER 

(Seating herself on the sofa.) 
I'll bet they have a lot to talk about. All these weeks being 
apart. The last time they were together was when they came 
to visit you at the hospital right after your stroke. How long 
has it been? Ten weeks? 

JACOB 

Ten long weeks. 

ESTHER 

They're really good friends, not just siblings. 

JACOB 

Good. They'll need each other. 

ESTHER 

(Pause.) 
I wouldn't be surprised if they sensed you're depressed. 
They're both very sensitive. 

JACOB 

Yes. 

ESTHER 

They probably guessed you're thinking of suicide. 

JACOB 

They didn't have to guess. - - 1 told them. 

ESTHER 

No! 



52 



LOOKING BACK: Four Plays 

JACOB 

No point trying to hide it. 

ESTHER 

I believe there are some things that are the domain of adults, 
not children. 

JACOB 

Ben and Becky are not children. - - Ben's already 23 and 
Becky's 19. 

ESTHER 

They're still our children and it's our obligation to protect 
them. 

JACOB 

I had to tell them. 

ESTHER 

Had to? 

JACOB 

I was hoping to get their moral support - - if not their 
cooperation. 

ESTHER 

Cooperation? Just what do you mean by "cooperation"? Do 
you want your own kids to kill you or what? 

JACOB 

No, I'd never go that far - - just wanted them to know - - to 
understand and. . . 



53 



EMPATHY 

ESTHER 

For Heaven's sake, Jacob, what's come over you? How can 
you be so selfish as to involve your own kids in your suicide? 
You're thinking of nobody but yourself. Don't you realize that 
assisting in a suicide is against the law? 

JACOB 

So I heard from Ben - - even in Massachusetts - - our 
wonderfully progressive state. 

ESTHER 

Ben was right. Actually, Massachusetts is progressive in 
this respect. Even enlightened. It's the way most states view 
assisting suicide. 

JACOB 

Incredible! 

ESTHER 

Protecting human life is one of a state's paramount 
obligations. 

JACOB 

But it's my life. - - If I want to end it, the state should stay out 
of it. - - It's none of the state's business! 

ESTHER 

Of course it is! Can you imagine if the state allowed people to 
commit suicide willy-nilly? What a burden that would impose 
on the state! 

JACOB 

Burden!? - - It would free up some much needed space. 



54 



LOOKING BACK: Four Plays 

ESTHER 

For Heaven's sake, Jacob. You can't be serious. Take the case 
of fathers. If fathers were allowed to commit suicide with 
impunity, the state would have all those widows and children 
to support. It's usually the man who is the chief breadwinner 
in the family. When he is gone, leaving a wife and children, 
the support of the family could easily devolve upon the state. 
On the taxpayers. 

JACOB 

At least in our case, that wouldn't apply. - - You have a good 
job. - - You're a professor of law. - - Judging by your past 
record, you could easily support - - yourself and the kids 
without my income. - - Actually, there'd be one less mouth to 
feed if I were gone. 

ESTHER 

You haven't exactly been eating excessively. 

JACOB 

And realistically - - my income in the future would be - - a 
lot smaller than it was in the past - - since I couldn't perform, 
only teach. - - So just doing the math - - you'd probably all be 
doing better - - financially - - without me. 

ESTHER 

Whatever your income level, it's still income. 

JACOB 

I shouldn't have to make a decision about - - whether to live 
or die - - on the basis of financial considerations. - - You and 
the kids would do fine without me. 



55 



EMPATHY 

ESTHER 

Aside from the financial aspect, I need you to help me raise 
the kids. 

JACOB 

But they're all raised. - - mature adults. - - They'll do fine 
without me. - - Ben will be finished with law school - - less 
than two years - - then he's on his own. - - And Becky - - 
done with college - - the year after that. - - 1 have complete 
confidence - - she'll do well for herself. - - a wonderful young 
lady. 

ESTHER 

Are you serious? I never realized how selfish you are. I 
always thought you were a very considerate person, putting 
the family's interests above your own. Maybe I didn't really 
know you although we've been married nearly a quarter of a 
century. Or is it possible that a stroke could change a person's 
character from being a selfless, considerate family man, into 
a self-centered, egotistical one? 

JACOB 

Maybe that's exactly - - what a serious illness does to a 
person. 

ESTHER 

It doesn't have to. You can be considerate no matter what the 
circumstances. You can think about other people's interests, 
not just your own. 

JACOB 

I think everybody's interest would be served - - if I were 
gone, - - whether they know it or not. 



56 



LOOKING BACK: Four Flays 

ESTHER 

(Pause.) 
No matter what argument I raise, you've got an answer. 
You don't seem to realize what your suicide would do to 
this family. Aside from everything I mentioned, there's the 
psychological aspect. Our kids would go through life feeling 
terrible guilt. From the time you commit suicide until the end 
of their days, they will ask themselves day after day if there 
was anything they could have done to prevent their father's 
suicide. And they'll imagine a thousand and one things they 
could have done. If only... If only... They'll have the burden 
of guilt on their shoulders for the rest of their lives. They'll 
never know one day of peace. 

MAYA 

Smart girl, Esther. She's reminded him about the family. 
That's the most important thing! 

JACOB 

Both of them are smart enough to realize - - they had nothing 
to do with it - - that it was just the way I felt about my own 
life - - that made me do it. 

ESTHER 

What a horrible example you'd be setting for them, that they 
should quit rather than go on fighting. 

JACOB 

There's a time to fight and a time to quit. - - 1 hope they know 
the difference. 

ESTHER 

The bottom line is that you don't value life. 



57 



EMPATHY 

JACOB 

On the contrary. - - 1 value it so much - - 1 won't accept a 
living death as a substitute. 

ESTHER 

That's convoluted thinking if I ever heard any. 

JACOB 

No, it's the truth pure and simple. 

ESTHER 

(Pause.) 
It's not just the feeling of guilt your suicide would impose 
on Ben and Becky. It's also the feeling of shame. Forever 
more, from the day you are gone until the day they go to 
their Maker, they'll be blamed by others for your death. 
Nobody will know why you committed suicide. Chances 
are nobody outside our family and friends would even care. 
But everybody will make up a reason why you did it. Perfect 
strangers, who would never even give us the time of day. And 
rumors would be flying around and horrible things will be 
said about our family to explain why the father of the family 
committed suicide. People will come up with stories, horrible 
stories, and these stories will follow Ben and Becky until they 
breathe their last breath. Surely you don't want to impose that 
kind of destiny on your own children! 

MAYA 

Yes, Esther, tell him! Jacob's in such pain, he's lost sight of 
things. When all is said and done, it's the family that counts. 

JACOB 

I can't let strangers determine - - what I do with my own life. 



58 



LOOKING BACK: Four Flays 

ESTHER 

And think what you would be doing to me. For the rest of 
my life I will be blamed for your suicide. Total strangers who 
neither know me nor care would say I'm to blame. Because 
I'm your wife and it's the wife's duty to keep her husband 
happy and if the husband commits suicide, the wife must 
have done something wrong. Jacob, I refuse to live the rest of 
my life being blamed by everyone for your death. I couldn't 
even go to temple without being accused, mostly behind 
my back, of having done unknown wrongs. And at the law 
school, faculty and students alike will point the finger of 
blame at me for years to come simply because I'm your wife. 
I don't think I could go on teaching, Jacob, knowing each day 
that I have to face all those vicious rumors, all those lies. I'd 
have to quit my job. And I'd probably be too ashamed to get 
another job, because the rumors would follow me wherever 
I go. And then, how would I support myself and the kids? I 
don't want to have to rely on the state for charity. 

JACOB 

You're a strong woman, Esther. - - 1 was hoping you'd get 
through it. 

ESTHER 

I never would. Never! Your suicide would follow me and the 
kids for the rest of our lives. Look, Jacob, suicide may take 
a moment to commit, but it subjects those left behind to a 
lifetime of guilt and shame. (Pause.) You have to get help, 
Jacob. You have to see a shrink. There are medications that 
can help you out of this suicidal depression. I know you can 
become your own self again and meet each day with happy 
anticipation, the way you always did. 



59 



EMPATHY 

JACOB 

(Pause.) 
Wish I could believe that's possible. 

ESTHER 

You have to. Look, Jacob, I can talk until I'm blue in the face. 
The bottom line is that I want to have you with me for as long 
as God in His mercy allows. I have known you practically 
all my life, ever since we first met at the temple when I was 
just a little girl and you were a little boy. I think I fell in love 
with you right there at one of those temple receptions when 
I watched you devouring all those blintzes piled up on your 
plate. I knew right there and then that some day we would 
be together as man and wife. The feeling that we belong 
together has never left me. I know in my heart that you can 
again find joy in living. Much as the loss of your ability to 
play the piano means to you, you can still teach and guide 
your students to be great performers. And you can find new 
avenues to express yourself. For an artist, the possibilities are 
boundless. And just because we don't know ahead of time 
what those possibilities are, that doesn't mean they're not 
there to be discovered. I have full confidence that God's light 
will shine upon you again. 

JACOB 

I wish. 

MAYA 

See, I told you. I have the best daughter-in-law in the world. 
No matter what the difficulties, she keeps her eyes on what's 
important: family love. And she never loses faith. If everyone 
were like this, the world wouldn't be in the terrible shape it's 
in. Only love and faith can save us. 



60 



LOOKING BACK: Four Hays 

ESTHER 

(Pause.) 
Don't you love me any more, Jacob? 

JACOB wheels himself toward Esther and reaches with his 
right hand for her hand, which she extends to him. For a 
moment, they hold hands in silence. 

JACOB 

(Looks tenderly into ESTHER 'S eyes as he holds her hand.) 
I do. 

ESTHER 

(Looking tenderly into JACOB'S eyes.) 
And I love you, too, Jacob. 

The sound of Beethoven s Appassionata sonata is heard for a 
minute or two, then slowly fades away. 

MAYA 

Did you hear that music? I always loved listening to Jacob 
playing it. It's Beethoven's Appassionata sonata. Beethoven 
composed it when he was already deaf. In it he expressed 
the power of man to overcome the forces of nature. (Pause.) 
Actually, Beethoven became deaf when he was only about thirty 
years old. Like my son, Beethoven, too, contemplated suicide. He 
was disgusted at the unfairness of life, that he, a musician, should 
become deaf. In a letter to his family he spoke of the difficulty 
of living with his handicap. He wrote, "...it's not easy, and for 
an artist much more difficult than for anyone else..." But then he 
gathered the courage to go on living and said, ". . . Perhaps I shall 
get better, perhaps not; lam ready..." And do you know what? 
Although he never regained his hearing, he kept on composing 
for the rest of his life. Maybe Jacob can derive courage from 
Beethoven. Maybe Jacob, too, can have faith. 



61 



EMPATHY 

JACOB 

Before I do anything else, Esther, let me close the lid on my 
piano. That open lid has always made me think of a bird's 
wing. It always symbolized to me a magical being soaring 
through the sky, reaching heights that we earthlings might 
never reach any other way than through music. I need to close 
that lid because the raised lid will always remind me that I 
may never soar above the earth again. Maybe if I don't have 
this constant reminder of the way things were, I wouldn't feel 
so bad. 

ESTHER smiles. JACOB wheels himself away from ESTHER, 
allowing his hand to slowly detach itself from hers, turns 
his wheelchair so as to face the piano, then wheels himself 
toward the piano and stops. He locks his wheelchair, rises, 
and limps over to the piano. Then, raising his left arm with 
great difficulty, he manages to grip the prop stick with his left 
hand. He reaches for the lid with his right hand, raises the lid 
slightly while lowering the prop stick, then loses his balance. 
He stumbles. The stage lights go out. The sound of a hard 
object hitting another hard object is heard, followed by the 
sound of the piano lid crashing. 

ESTHER 

(Screaming, rising from the sofa and running toward JACOB.) 
Jacob! 

MAYA 

(Wailing.) 
My son! My son! I'm right here! Right here! 



CURTAIN 



62 



GOOD OLD ABRAHAM 

A full length play in three acts 



63 



GOOD OLD ABRAHAM was first performed by the Shades 
Repertory Theater under the direction of its Artistic Director, 
Samuel Harps, on April 15, 2010. The performance took place 
at the historic Central Presbyterian Church, 64 New Main 
Street, Haverstraw, New York, U.S.A. 

The actors were: 



JOSHUA 

AARON 

ABRAHAM 

SARAH 

ISAAC 

HAGAR 

ISHMAEL 

VOICE O.S. 



Spencer Kennard 
Jim Coakley 
Lou Morris 
Linda Rosen 
Jeff Golda 
Tricia Castaldo 
Peter Schonbachler 
Charles Castrovinci 



Stacey Cretekas was SARAH'S understudy. 



Suzanne Du Charme served as Assistant to the Director. 



64 



CHARACTERS 

JOSHUA An American teenager, AARON'S son. 

AARON A middle aged man, a widower, a rabbi. 

ABRAHAM An elderly but youthful looking man. 

SARAH ABRAHAM'S elderly but youthful and 

attractive looking wife. 

ISAAC ABRAHAM'S and SARAH'S son, a teenager 

who grows up. 

H AG AR A beautiful woman of uncertain age. 

ISHMAEL ABRAHAM and HAGAR'S son, a teenager 
who grows up. 

VOICE O.S. A man's voice offstage, representing God. 



65 



GOOD OLD ABRAHAM 

TIME AND PLACE 

The play takes place simultaneously in contemporary 
America and in ancient Canaan. Time indications at the 
beginning of ACT TWO and ACT THREE pertain to the 
contemporary scene. To accommodate the division between 
the contemporary and the ancient scenes, the stage is 
sectioned into two parts throughout the play: first, a very 
small area at stage right downstage, where the contemporary 
events take place; and, second, the main stage, where the 
ancient saga unfolds. The contemporary scene, which is well 
lit, is a very small space, a portion of a room, and contains 
a table, two chairs and a bookcase. There is no wall or other 
opaque barrier between this space and the main stage. The 
ancient scene is in a desert-like space, with scattered rocks 
and branches on the ground and a suggestion of distant 
barren hills. There is a small shrub near downstage center, 
and, nearby, a large flat-topped rock, which can double as the 
top of a well. A small, rectangular tent stands upstage at stage 
left, running lengthwise parallel to the stage front. The tent 
has the flap closest to the audience raised so that its interior 
is visible. The tent's doorway is toward center stage. Pillows 
are amassed in a tall heap inside the tent. The characters on 
the main stage cannot see or hear what is taking place in the 
contemporary scene between AARON and JOSHUA. Nor 
can AARON see or hear what is transpiring on the main 
stage. However, by contrast, JOSHUA can see and hear the 
events unfolding there. 

Throughout the play, while AARON and JOSHUA are having 
their study session, JOSHUA repeatedly and furtively glances 
over his left shoulder at the happenings on the main stage. 



66 



LOOKING BACK: Four Plays 

ACT ONE 

The stage is dimly lit except for a brightly lit small space 
downstage at stage right, part of a room, where there is a 
table with two chairs. One of the chairs has its back to the 
main stage, the other is perpendicular to that chair and 
faces the audience. Near the table, at stage right downstage, 
is a bookcase full of books. As the curtain rises, AARON is 
standing in front of the bookcase, looking through the books. 
He picks out two identical-looking large volumes, places 
them on the table, one in front of each of the two chairs, then 
sits down on the chair that has its back to the main stage. He 
leafs through the book in front of him, then stops. Adjusting 
his skullcap, he begins reading silently to himself. 

The illumination of the main stage suggests a dream-like 
atmosphere. ABRAHAM, dressed in a flowing robe, walks 
rapidly from stage left through the tent and emerges through 
the tent's doorway. At center stage, he paces this way and 
that, looking at the sky, as if searching for something. 

SARAH, dressed in an ancient style long gown and heavily 
bejeweled, enters the tent from stage left. She walks through 
the tent and stops before reaching the tent 's doorway. She 
is closely followed by HAGAR, who is similarly but not as 
richly attired. The two women stand near the tent doorway, 
watching ABRAHAM'S every move. SARAH intermittently 
shakes her head from side to side while HAGAR observes 
her. SARAH and HAGAR speak to each other from time to 
time, but their conversation is inaudible to the audience. 
After a while, SARAH silently walks back and exits at stage 
left, dutifully followed by HAGAR. Some time later, SARAH 
and HAGAR return and resume their previous positions. This 
back-and-forth activity of SARAH and HAGAR is repeated 
several times throughout this ACT. 

67 



GOOD OLD ABRAHAM 

ABRAHAM 

Where are You? (ABRAHAM continues pacing back and forth 
around the stage, searching the shy, then falls to his knees at 
center stage. While on his knees, he alternately looks at the 
sky and bows. Louder.) Where are You? 

AARON 

(Stops reading and looks at his watch.) 
Where are you, Josh? (Listens for an answer. Louder.) 
Joshua! 

JOSHUA, somewhat disheveled, comes in from stage right, 
tucking his cell phone into his pants pocket. He quickly seats 
himself next to his father at the table, facing the audience. 

JOSHUA 

Sorry, Dad! 

AARON 

It's past three o'clock. 

JOSHUA 

I was just talking to Michael. 

AARON 

You know what we do on the Sabbath beginning at three. 

JOSHUA 

Oh jeez, Dad. Do we have to? 

AARON 

Tell me: What more important things do you have to do on 
Sabbath afternoon? 



68 



LOOKING BACK: Four Plays 

JOSHUA 

Michael wanted to hang out. 

AARON 

You two can hang out some other time. 

JOSHUA 

None of my friends have to spend their Saturday afternoons 
studying. 

AARON 

Do you want to grow up as ignorant about your heritage as 
your friends will be about theirs? 

JOSHUA 

For seven long years I went to Hebrew School. Isn't that 
enough? 

ABRAHAM 

(Searching the sky.) 
Can You hear me? 

AARON 

With all due respect, Hebrew School is no longer what it used 
to be. 

JOSHUA 

What do you mean? 

AARON 

I figured it out after your Bar Mitzvah. 

JOSHUA 

I thought you said I did well on my Bar Mitzvah. 



69 



GOOD OLD ABRAHAM 

AARON 



You did. 



JOSHUA 

All those Blessings I had to chant! 

AARON 

You did well, but. . . 

JOSHUA 

And you said Mom would have been proud. 

AARON 

(Patting JOSHUA 'S head lovingly.) 
She certainly would have been. Very proud. You chanted 
everything perfectly. But afterwards I realized that Hebrew 
School didn't give you the proper background. 

JOSHUA 

And I had to do it all in Hebrew! 

AARON 

It was all done by rote. That's when I decided to take matters 
into my own hands. I can't let my only child grow up without 
a proper foundation. Mom would not have wanted me to. 

JOSHUA 

Oh man! I thought once I was done with my Bar Mitzvah, 
that was it. 

AARON 

Learning about your heritage is never done. 

JOSHUA 

Oh jeez! 



70 



LOOKING BACK: Four Plays 

ABRAHAM 

Why will You not answer me? 

AARON 

Well, enough of this. Let's get started. Pay attention now, 
Josh. Where are we? Oh, yes. Do you remember what we 
studied last week? 

JOSHUA 

Last week? 

AARON 

Yes. Last Sabbath. 

JOSHUA 

Hmm. 

AARON 

Never mind for now. Let's do it another way, just to make 
sure you get the big picture. First of all, what book were we 
studying? 

JOSHUA 

The Bible. 

AARON 

You mean the Old Testament. 

JOSHUA 

What's the difference? 

AARON 

By "The Bible" people in America usually refer to the Old 
and the New Testament combined. The New Testament is 
a section that the Christians added to the Old Testament. 



71 



GOOD OLD ABRAHAM 



But in the Jewish tradition, "The Bible" only includes the 
Old Testament. So we can call it "The Bible" as long as we 
understand that here we are talking about the Old Testament. 



Okay. 



Are You there? 



JOSHUA 



ABRAHAM 



AARON 

And just to make sure you get the big picture, what parts are 
there to the Old Testament? 



What parts? 



Yes, what parts? 



Give me a hint. 



There are three parts. 



Oh. What are they? 



JOSHUA 



AARON 



JOSHUA 



AARON 



JOSHUA 



AARON 

That's what I'm asking you! 



JOSHUA 



Give me a hint. 



72 



LOOKING BACK: Four Flays 

AARON 

The first part is the Torah. And what are the other two parts? 

JOSHUA 

Give me another hint. 

AARON 

Never mind. You can't just guess these things. You have to 
know them. After the Torah comes Neviim, and then we have 
Ketuvim, in that order. And what is each part made up of? 

JOSHUA 

What do you mean? 

AARON 

Each part is made up of several books. 

JOSHUA 

Gotcha. 

AARON 

Can you repeat the names of the three parts of the Old 
Testament? 

JOSHUA 

Torah, Neviim, Ketuvim. 

AARON 

Excellent! And do you know what we call all three parts of 
the Old Testament together? 

JOSHUA 

"The Old Testament." 



73 



GOOD OLD ABRAHAM 

ABRAHAM 



Are You still there? 



AARON 

Please pay attention, Josh. They are called "Tanakh" - the 
"Taf ' stands for "Torah," the "Nun" stands for "Neviim" and 
the "Kaf ' stands for "Ketuvim." "Tanakh" is the Hebrew 
name for the Old Testament. Can you say "Tanakh"? 

JOSHUA 

Tanakh. 

AARON 

Excellent! But do you know what these terms - Torah, 
Neviim and Ketuvim - mean? 

JOSHUA 

Not really. 

AARON 

Well, "Torah" means "Teachings," "Neviim" means 
"Prophets" and "Ketuvim" means "Writings." So the three 
parts of the Old Testament are the Teachings, the Prophets 
and the Writings. 

JOSHUA 

But Dad, can't we just get to the reading? At this rate we'll 
never be done. 

ABRAHAM 

Why have You been silent? 

AARON 

You need a framework to understand what you're reading and 
I'm trying to give you a framework. Speaking of reading, can 



74 



LOOKING BACK: Four Plays 

you tell me which of the three parts of the Tanakh we were 
reading from last Sabbath? 

JOSHUA 

The first part, I guess. 

AARON 

Right! The Torah part. And what specific book of the Torah 
were we reading from? 

JOSHUA 

The first book? 

AARON 

Yes. The first book of the first part. The first part is the Torah, 
and it is made up of 5 books and we were reading from the 
first book, which is called what? 

JOSHUA 

Genesis? 

AARON 

Excellent! Genesis! We're getting somewhere. You're a smart 
boy, Josh, if only you would apply yourself. Now, do you 
remember what story we read last Sabbath? 

ABRAHAM 

Have I done anything to offend You? 

JOSHUA 

I think it was about Noah and the flood. 

AARON 

No. Noah was the previous Sabbath. Last Sabbath we studied 
another story. 



75 



GOOD OLD ABRAHAM 



JOSHUA 



Which one? 



AARON 

That's what I'm asking you! 



I can't remember. 



Think! 



I can't think of it. 



The Tower of Babel. 



JOSHUA 



AARON 



JOSHUA 



AARON 



JOSHUA 

Oh, yeah, now I remember. God didn't approve of 
skyscrapers. I wonder what God would say if He ever came to 
America. 

AARON 

It isn't that God didn't approve of skyscrapers. What He 
didn't approve of was people's motive for building the Tower 
of Babel. People thought that by building a tall tower they 
could elevate themselves above God. So what was the lesson 
God taught mankind by destroying the Tower of Babel? 



JOSHUA 



I forget. 



76 



LOOKING BACK: Four Plays 

AARON 

Think, Joshua, think! That's what God gave us a brain for. To 
think. 

JOSHUA 

I'm thinking, but I still can't figure it out. All I can think of is 
that the Tower of Babel story was a lot like Nine-Eleven. That 
tower crashing down on all those people! 

AARON 

Humility. By destroying the Tower of Babel, God was 
teaching mankind to be humble. 

JOSHUA 

And then I think of Mom getting killed on Nine-Eleven, right 
there when the Twin Towers came crashing down. 

AARON 

(Patting JOSHUA gently on the head.) 
Yes, Josh. I think of Nine-Eleven myself. Mom was a 
wonderful woman, and she loved you very much. You and I 
both miss her. But we have to go on. That's what she would 
have wanted us to do. Don't you think? 

JOSHUA 

I guess so. 

ABRAHAM 

Please tell me, and I will mend my ways. 

AARON 

Listen, Josh. There's something fundamental you have to 
understand. Maybe I haven't made it clear enough. We read 
the Bible stories so we can learn from them. They're not there 
just to entertain us. They teach us important lessons. They 



77 



GOOD OLD ABRA1L 

teach us how we should behave. With Mom gone, I feel my 
responsibility to teach you more keenly than ever. Do you 
understand? 

JOSHUA 

I guess. 

AARON 

The week before last we studied about Noah and the Great 
Flood. Now, what lesson do you suppose God wanted to teach 
us in that story? 

JOSHUA 

Beats me. That flood was even worse than Hurricane Katrina, 
and Hurricane Katrina was pretty awful. I don't understand 
why God had to drown the whole world and save only Noah 
and his family and a bunch of animals. 

AARON 

Because Noah and his family were the only righteous people 
in the eyes of God. Of all the people in the world, only Noah 
and his family believed in God. 

JOSHUA 

Just because people didn't believe in God was no reason to 
kill them. 

AARON 

The other people worshipped idols and didn't follow in God's 
ways. 

JOSHUA 

Like what? 



78 



LOOKING BACK: Four Plays 

AARON 

For one thing, they engaged in child sacrifice. That's what 
they believed their idols demanded of them. 

JOSHUA 

How awful! But I don't think drowning people was the right 
thing for God to do. Actually, the story said that God was 
sorry for what He did. Remember? God promised He would 
never cause another great flood again. 

AARON 

Yes, He did promise that, as evidenced by the rainbow. Right 
you are. 

JOSHUA 

Sounds like even God sometimes makes mistakes. 

AARON 

If so, at least He admits His mistakes and learns from them. 
And that's an important lesson in itself. 

ABRAHAM 

There is nothing I want more than to walk in Your ways. 

JOSHUA 

Look, Dad, all this talk about the flood makes me thirsty. Can 
I go get something cold to drink? 

AARON 

Sure, but hurry back. We haven't even started on today's 
lesson. 

ABRAHAM 

Please speak to me, God! 



79 



GOOD OLD ABRAHAM 

JOSHUA gets up and runs out at stage right. AARON gets up, 
stands in front of the bookcase and looks through some of the 
books. After a while he looks at his watch and sits down in 
his seat. 

AARON 

Josh! (AARON listens for an answer. Louder.) Joshua! 

JOSHUA comes in from stage right and quickly seats himself 
at the table. 

JOSHUA 

Sorry. 

AARON 

Okay. Let's read. Take it from Genesis, chapter 11, verse 10. 

JOSHUA searches in his book, leafing back and forth. 
AARON helps him find the right page and points to the spot. 

JOSHUA 

"These are the generations of S hem." 

AARON 

Do you remember who Shem was? 

JOSHUA 

I forget. 

AARON 

He was one of Noah's three sons. Can you name the other 
two? 

JOSHUA 

Not really. 



80 



LOOKING BACK: Four Plays 

AARON 

The others were Ham and Japhet. Do you know why Shem is 
particularly important to us? 

JOSHUA 

Why? 

AARON 

Because the Jewish people are descended from him. That's 
why we are called "Semites." The origin of the word 
"Semite" is "Shem." 

ABRAHAM 

Did I not leave my father's house and my homeland in Haran 
on Your command? 

JOSHUA 

Gotcha. "Shem was a hundred years old, and begot Arpa..." 

AARON 

Arpachshad. 

JOSHUA 

"...and begot Arpachshad two years after the flood. And 
Shem lived after he begot Arpachshad five hundred years..." 

AARON 

Good. Please continue. 

JOSHUA 

Wait a minute! How could Shem live that long? 

AARON 

The story doesn't make that clear. We just have to accept it on 
faith. 



81 



GOOD OLD ABRAHAM 

JOSHUA 

On faith? I thought you said I have to use my brain to think. 
Well, I'm thinking. 

AARON 

Balancing thinking and faith is not always easy, as we'll see 
later. Please continue. 

JOSHUA 

"And Arpachshad lived five and thirty years and begot 
Shelah. And Arpachshad lived after he begot She/ah four 
hundred and three years. .." 

AARON 

Just read to yourself. Read till you get to Abraham. 

ABRAHAM 

Did I not take my wife Sarai and my nephew Lot and all my 
other household and go to the land You said You would show 
me? 

JOSHUA 

(Reading to himself) 
"And Shelah.. . begot Eber. And Shelah lived after he begot 
Eberfour hundred and three years... And Eber. . . begot 
Peleg. And Eber lived after he begot Pelegfour hundred 
and thirty years. . . And Peleg. . . begot Reu. And Peleg lived 
after he begot Reu two hundred and nine years... And 
Reu. ..begot Serug. And Reu lived after he begot Serug two 
hundred and seven years. . . And Serug. . . begot Nahor. And 
Serug lived after he begot Nahor two hundred years... And 
Nahor. . . begot Terah. And Nahor lived after he begot Terah 
a hundred and nineteen years... And Terah lived seventy 
years and begot Abraham. . . " 



82 



LOOKING BACK: Four Plays 

AARON 

Pay attention, Josh. It says "Abram," not "Abraham." 
Only much later was Abram's name changed by God to 
"Abraham." 

ABRAHAM 

Did I not let You lead me to the Land of Canaan? 

JOSHUA 

What's the difference between the two names? 

AARON 

"Abram" means "great father," while "Abraham" means 
"father of many." 

JOSHUA 

I see. "Abram, Nahor and Haran." 

AARON 

Olay. Stop. Let's review. 

ABRAHAM 

Did I not keep my faith in You even though the Land of 
Canaan was bare, with no water or food for my household? 

JOSHUA 

Oh man! Do you believe all this stuff? 

AARON 

What do you mean by "stuff? 

JOSHUA 

How long all these guys lived. 



83 



GOOD OLD ABRAHAM 

AARON 

I have no reason to doubt the biblical account. 

JOSHUA 

But how could they live that long? Even with the benefits of 
modern medicine, people can't live for hundreds of years, like 
these guys did. Maybe they just counted years differently in 
those days? Like maybe what they called "a year" was really 
what we call "a month"? 

AARON 

I don't know. On the whole, the age indicated for the fathers 
when their first children were born seems to correspond to 
normal human experience. So maybe the account is accurate. 

JOSHUA 

Or maybe God intervened to make each of these guys live for 
hundreds of years? 



AARON 



That is a possibility. 



JOSHUA 

Do you really believe that? Sounds like science fiction to me. 
And what's all the stuff about this one begot and that one 
begot? Why was it always men who begot? I thought women 
are the ones who bear children. How come the mothers aren't 
even mentioned? Maybe it was men who bore children in 
those days? 

AARON 

No. Even in those days it was women who bore the children. 
But, for purposes of procreation, women were considered - 
how shall I put it? - like the earth in which a seed is planted, 



84 



LOOKING BACK: Four Plays 

simply a container to provide nourishment for a man's seed 
during the nine months of gestation. 

JOSHUA 

So why do I have to learn this stuff? It's so bizarre! 

AARON 

It teaches you about our heritage. The way our ancestors 
thought is part of our heritage. 

JOSHUA 

Glad I'm not living in those days. 

ABRAHAM 

Did I not remain faithful to You even when I went down to 
Egypt with my household to avoid the drought in Canaan? 

AARON 

In some ways we've come a long way in our thinking since 
those days. The society to which all these ancestors of ours 
belonged considered men to be the more valued members 
of society. In America today things are different. Men and 
women are deemed equal. 

JOSHUA 

How long ago did these guys live, anyway? 

AARON 

Abraham lived about four thousand years ago. 

JOSHUA 

Four thousand? Phew! 



85 



GOOD OLD ABRAHAM 

AARON 

Roughly speaking. Now tell me, Josh, how many generations 
were there from Noah to Abraham? 

JOSHUA 

How would I know? 

ABRAHAM 

And did I not trust in You while suffering through the 
indignity of having my beloved wife, Sarai, taken into the 
Pharaoh's house? 

AARON 

Please pay attention, Josh. Just look in your book and count 
them. 

JOSHUA 

(Counts on his fingers while looking in his book.) 
Okay. Shem, Arpachshad, Shelah, Eber, Peleg, Reu, Serug, 
Nahor, Terah, Abram. Ten. Ten generations. 

AARON 

Excellent! Ten generations from Noah to Abraham. And do 
you know how many generations there were from Adam to 
Noah? 

JOSHUA 

Not really. 

AARON 

We discussed it a couple of weeks ago, when we learned 
about Noah. 

JOSHUA 

Oh, yeah, now I remember. Ten generations. 



86 



LOOKING BACK: Four Flays 

AARON 

So how many generations were there between Adam and 
Abraham? 

JOSHUA 

Twenty. 

AARON 

Correct. There were twenty generations from Adam to 
Abraham. Actually, I wasn't questioning your mathematical 
ability. I just wanted to make sure you're paying attention. 
Now we're ready to turn to Abraham, who will be our main 
subject for the foreseeable future. He was called "Abram" in 
the beginning but, for purposes of discussion, we'll call him 
"Abraham," as God named him later and as he's been known 
in history. Why do you suppose Abraham is important in our 
people's history? 



JOSHUA 



Beats me. 



ABRAHAM 

And did You not hear my supplication and rescue Sarai from 
the Pharaoh's clutches by punishing Egypt with a plague? 

AARON 

First of all, he was one of the patriarchs. 

JOSHUA 

What does that mean? 

AARON 

A patriarch is a father-ruler, like the chief of a tribe. Only 
unlike in a tribe such as an Indian tribe, we are all supposedly 
descendants of this chief. Abraham is one of our ancestors. 



87 



GOOD OLD ABRAHAM 

JOSHUA 

So learning about Abraham is like learning family history?! 
But Dad, do we have to start that far back? Four thousand 
years! We'll never be done. 

AARON 

We'll take it step by step. We have time. 

JOSHUA 

Oh jeez! 

AARON 

Okay. Let's read. Please start with Genesis, chapter 11, verse 27. 

JOSHUA searches in his book, leafing back and forth. 
AARON helps him find the right page and points to the spot. 

JOSHUA 

"Now these are the generations of Terah. Terah begot 
Abraham..." 

AARON 

When you read, please read it as it says. It says "Abram." 

ABRAHAM 

God, have You forsaken me? 

During the following, ABRAHAM gets up and begins 
gathering rocks and assembling them into an altar at upstage 
right. He places a layer of rocks on the ground, one rock next 
to another in a rectangular formation, then places a layer of 
rocks on top of the previous one and another on top of that 
one. Intermittently he stops and wipes his brow. 



88 



LOOKING BACK: Four Flays 

JOSHUA 

"...Abram, Nahor and Ha ran, and Haran begot Lot And 
Haran died in the presence of his father Terah in the land 
of his nativity, in Ur..." 

AARON 

Stop. Let's discuss it. Where did Abraham's family come 
from? 

JOSHUA 

It says from Ur. 

AARON 

Do you know where Ur is located? 

JOSHUA 

Beats me. 

AARON 

In Iraq. 

JOSHUA 

In Iraq? You mean the Iraq where the American troops were 
fighting? 

AARON 

Exactly. 

JOSHUA 

Why in the world would anyone want to live there? 

AARON 

It was a prosperous region. Ur was not far from the Euphrates 
River so there was an abundant water supply and there were 
trade routes nearby. It was a good place to live. 



89 



GOOD OLD ABRAH/ 

JOSHUA 



I guess. 



AARON 

Now let's proceed. Does the text tell us whom Abraham 
married? 

JOSHUA 

(Looks in his booh.) 
It says, "The name ofAbram's wife was Sarai..." 

AARON 

And do you know what Sarai's name was changed to later? 

JOSHUA 

"Sarah"? 

AARON 

Excellent! God changed her name to "Sarah" at the same 
time He changed "Abram" into "Abraham." We can call her 
"Sarah" except when we are reading and it says "Sarai." And 
what one thing does the text tell us here about Sarah? 

JOSHUA 

(Searches in the text.) 
"And Sarai was barren. She had no child" 

AARON 

Right. Abraham's wife, Sarah, had no child. That is an 
important thing to remember. It's a major factor in the 
Abraham saga, as you will find out. But let's go on. What 
does the text tell us next? 

ABRAHAM, having gathered some rocks arranges them 
in a rectangular formation, then sits down on the ground, 



90 



LOOKING BACK: Four Plays 

seemingly exhausted. He sighs, wipes his brow, then gets up 
and stands on his knees near the arranged rocks and looks at 
the sky. 

ABRAHAM 

Please, God, give me the strength to finish building this altar 
for You. 

ABRAHAM gets up and continues gathering and arranging 
rocks. 

JOSHUA 

(After reading to himself.) 
Abraham's dad took Abraham and Sarah and their nephew 
Lot and they were heading for the Land of Canaan but when 
they came to a place called Haran they stayed there. 

AARON 

So they were first heading for the Land of Canaan. Do you 
know where that is? 

JOSHUA 

In Israel? 

AARON 

Well, the Land of Canaan included present-day Israel but it 
was much bigger than Israel is today. It included the Gaza 
Strip and the West Bank and even part, if not all of, what is 
now the Kingdom of Jordan. 

JOSHUA 

Really? 

AARON 

But they ended up in Haran. Do you know where Haran is? 



91 



GOOD OLD ABRAHAM 

JOSHUA 

Not really. 

AARON 

In Turkey. 

JOSHUA 

Turkey? How did they get to Turkey? 

AARON 

If you look at a map, you'll see they probably followed the 
Euphrates River north from Ur and ended up in Turkey. 

ABRAHAM 

(Gathering rocks and building.) 
Thank You, God, for giving me the strength to continue 
building an altar for You. 

JOSHUA 

So did they ever reach the Land of Canaan? 

AARON 

Terah died in Haran, but Abraham and Sarah and Lot did 
reach it. It happened years after they got to Haran. God 
appeared to Abraham one day and commanded him to leave 
Haran. Can you find the verse where God commanded 
Abraham to leave Haran? I think you'll find it further down, 
in chapter 12, the first verse. Please read it to me. 

JOSHUA 

"Now God said unto Abram: 'Get thee out of thy country, 
and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto the 
land that I will show thee. 9 " 



92 



LOOKING BACK.: Four Plays 

AARON 

Stop and read that sentence again, this time to yourself. It's 
very important. 

JOSHUA 

(Reading to himself) 
Okay. 

AARON 

What did God command Abraham to do? 

JOSHUA 

God told him to leave Haran and go to a land that God will 
show him. 

AARON 

So God asked Abraham to leave his father's house, to make a 
break with the past, and start on a new life. Now, when God 
told Abraham to leave Haran, did God mention he would lead 
Abraham to the Land of Canaan? 

JOSHUA 

(Looking in his book.) 

No. 

AARON 

Did God mention any specific place He would lead Abraham 
to? 

JOSHUA 

No. 

AARON 

Why is that important? 



93 



GOOD OLD ABRAHAM 

JOSHUA 



Beats me. 



AARON 

Well, Abraham decided to follow God's command even 
though he didn't know where God would lead him. He didn't 
even question God about where He was going to lead him. 
Abraham simply obeyed God's command. Abraham had faith 
in God. 

JOSHUA 

Is that good? To obey without questioning? 

AARON 

It's something this story teaches us. To have unquestioning 
faith. Do you know why Abraham had left Ur before going to 
Haran in the first place? 

JOSHUA 

Because his Dad told him to? 

AARON 

The Torah doesn't explain, but there's a long oral tradition 
that says that in Ur, Abraham was persecuted for his belief 
in one God. All of Ur's people were idol worshippers and 
Abraham was the only one there who believed in one God. 
So Abraham left Ur for a place where he hoped to find 
greater freedom to pursue his faith, and he ended up, at least 
temporarily, in Haran. 

JOSHUA 

Like the Pilgrims coming to America. 

AARON 

Right. 



94 



LOOKING BACK: Four Flays 

ABRAHAM 

(Gathering rocks and building.) 
Thank You, God, for giving me the strength to continue 
building this altar for You. 

JOSHUA 

I think religious freedom is a good thing. Each person should 
believe what he wants to believe. And if he doesn't believe, he 
shouldn't have to. 

AARON 

I, too, believe in religious freedom. Now what does the Bible 
say next, after God commanded Abraham to leave Haran? 
Did God make any promises to Abraham? Read to yourself 
and tell me. 

JOSHUA 

(Studying his book.) 
God said He will make Abraham into a great nation. 

AARON 

Excellent! What else? 

JOSHUA 

That Abraham will be a blessing to the whole world. 

AARON 

And what does the story tell us Abraham did after God gave 
him the command and made him these promises? 

JOSHUA 

Abraham took his wife and nephew and everyone and 
everything in his household and left Haran, like God 
commanded him to. 



95 



GOOD OLD ABRAHAM 

AARON 

And how old was Abraham when he set out on his journey 
from Haran? 

JOSHUA 

(Looking in his book.) 
It says seventy-five. Pretty old. 

AARON 

And does it say whether Abraham eventually reached the 
Land of Canaan? 

JOSHUA 

(Looking in his book.) 
Yes. He did. 

AARON 

And where did he settle first? 

JOSHUA 

(Looking in his book.) 
A place called Shechem. 

AARON 

Do you know where that is? 

JOSHUA 

On the coast, near Tel Aviv? 

AARON 

No, Abraham didn't settle on the coast. Shechem is east 
of there, about halfway between the coast and the Jordan 
River, in central Israel, in a valley between two mountains. 
Shechem was a commercial center due to its position in the 
middle of vital trade routes. 



96 



LOOKING BACK: Four. Plays 

ABRAHAM sits down on the ground, seemingly exhausted. 
He sighs, then gets up on his knees near the arranged 
stones and looks at the sky. He wipes his brow, gets up and 
continues gathering rocks and building his altar. 

ABRAHAM 

I am almost done, God, just a few more rocks. Thank You for 
helping me do the job. 

JOSHUA 

Too bad. There's great swimming off Tel Aviv, remember? 

AARON 

Sure. We were all there together, the three of us, when you 
were little. I didn't know you still remember. You must have 
been no more than five years old. 

JOSHUA 

Of course I remember. Mom took me to the beach while you 
were at a conference. 

AARON 

Maybe some day the two of us will visit Israel again. Would 
you like that? 

JOSHUA 

Oh, yes! When can we go? 

AARON 

I'll figure something out. But for now, let's get back to the 
story. What was it that God told Abraham when he got to 
Shechem? Please find chapter 12, verse 7, and read it to me. 



97 



GOOD OLD ABRAHAM 

JOSHUA 

"And God appeared unto Abram, and said: 'Unto thy seed 
will I give this land. 9 



a 



AARON 

Stop. What does "unto thy seed" mean? 

JOSHUA 

To Abraham's children? 

AARON 

Right. To his children and to their children. To Abraham's 
descendants. 

JOSHUA 

But if Abraham left Haran when he was already seventy-five 
years old, could he still have children? 

AARON 

We'll find out later. The main thing to understand now is that 
God promised the Land of Canaan to Abraham's descendants. 

JOSHUA 

This is all pretty bizarre. How old was Abraham's wife if 
Abraham was seventy-five? 

AARON 

Sarah was ten years younger than Abraham, so she was sixty- 
five. 

JOSHUA 

If she was sixty-five, could she still have kids? 



98 



LOOKING BACK: Four Plays 

AARON 

We'll see later. We don't want to anticipate too far ahead. It 
will spoil the suspense. 

JOSHUA 

Like in a mystery story? 

AARON 

Precisely. 

ABRAHAM finishes building his altar. He looks at it and 
smiles, then gets on his knees and bows down. He gets up and 
begins gathering branches, which he places carefully inside 
the altar. 

JOSHUA 

(Looking in his book.) 
I have a question. It says, "God appeared unto Abram." 
What I want to know is how did God appear? Like a person? 

AARON 

It doesn't say. 

JOSHUA 

Maybe Abraham just imagined that God appeared? 

AARON 

It says, "God appeared." 

JOSHUA 

Maybe Abraham just heard a voice in his head? 

AARON 

We have to take the biblical account as it is given. 



99 



GOOD OLD ABRAHAM 

JOSHUA 

But if he only heard a voice, how could Abraham be sure it 
was God's voice? 

AARON 

He just knew it was. 

JOSHUA 

Because he heard it before? 

AARON 

Yes. 

JOSHUA 

But how could he tell it was God's voice in the first place? 

AARON 

He just knew. 

JOSHUA 

Because he had faith? 

AARON 

Yes. 

JOSHUA 

(Pause.) 
Hey, Dad. Did you ever hear voices? 

AARON 

No. I haven't. 

JOSHUA 

I haven't, either. 



100 



LOOKING BACK: Four Plays 

AARON 

Well, let's continue with our story. Abraham did something 
very important after he heard God promising the Land of 
Canaan to his descendants. What did Abraham do? Read it to 
me. It's in chapter 12, a continuation of the same verse 7. 

JOSHUA 

"And he built there an altar unto God..." 

AARON 

Yes, he built an altar to sacrifice to God and thereby thank 
Him. And then Abraham moved to Beth El, south of 
Shechem. And what did he do there? Look at the next verse. 

JOSHUA 

(Looking in his book.) 
He built another altar. But Dad, how many altars did 
Abraham build? 

ABRAHAM finishes gathering branches and placing them 
inside his altar. He stands on his knees and looks at the sky. 

ABRAHAM 

Dear God, thank You for allowing Your humble servant to 
build an altar for You. I will get a choice lamb for a burnt 
offering and sacrifice it. Maybe then You will appear to me 
again. 

SARAH, having observed ABRAHAM, walks back through 
the tent and exits at stage left, followed by HAGAR. 



CURTAIN 



101 



LOOKING BACK: Four Plays 

ACT TWO 

A few weeks later. As the curtain rises, AARON and JOSHUA 
are seated at the table, as before, with their books open in 
front of them. 

On the main stage, ABRAHAM is on his knees near the altar, 
with his head bowed. There is a black skeleton-like object on 
top of the altar, suggesting a burnt offering. 

SARAH walks into the tent from stage left. She is followed by 
HAGAR. The two women walk past the pile of pillows to the 
tent doorway and survey the scene outside. Their eyes fall on 
ABRAHAM. 

SARAH 

He is still out there. 

During the following exchange between SARAH and HAGAR, 
JOSHUA and AARON continue with their study session, 
whether through readings or discussion, but their words are 
inaudible to the audience. 



True, my lady. 



Praying to his God. 



Yes, my lady. 



What a persistent man! 



HAGAR 



SARAH 



HAGAR 



SARAH 



103 



GOOD OLD ABRAHAM 

HAGAR 

A man of faith, my lady. 

SARAH 

When will it end? 

HAGAR 

I do not know, my lady. 

SARAH 

He still believes in his God's promise. 

HAGAR 

What promise, my lady? 

SARAH 

That the Land of Canaan will belong to his descendants. 

HAGAR 

A strange promise considering you are both advanced in age. 
my lady, and have no children. 

SARAH 

(Sighs.) 
Yes, Hagar. 

HAGAR 

And you, my lady, beyond the child-bearing years. 

SARAH 

(Sighs.) 
Yes, Hagar. 

HAGAR 

Your husband does not give up easily, my lady. 



104 



LOOKING BACK: Four Plays 

SARAH 

His God keeps repeating the promise, despite the passage of 
years. 

HAGAR 

Do you believe in your husband's God, my lady? 

SARAH 

I have my doubts. And you? 

HAGAR 

I wonder if it is your husband's God or his own imagination 
that speaks to him, my lady. 

SARAH 

What do you mean? 

HAGAR 

Perhaps he wants a child so badly, my lady, that he imagines 
he is hearing his God promising one to him. 

SARAH turns around and walks over to the pile of pillows. 
With HAGAR 'S help, she arranges several pillows in a small 
pile on the floor of the tent and sits down, facing ABRAHAM. 
HAGAR pulls out a hand mirror and a brush from her 
pocket, hands the mirror to SARAH, and proceeds to brush 
SARAH'S hair. 

AARON 

Okay, Josh. What did we study last Sabbath? 

JOSHUA 

About how Abraham and his household went down to Egypt 
because of the famine in the Land of Canaan, and how 
when they came back Abraham and his nephew Lot parted 



105 



GOOD OLD ABRAHAM 

company and Lot went to live in Sodom, but Abraham went 
back to Beth El. 

AARON 

Do you remember where Sodom was? 

JOSHUA 

Near the Dead Sea. 

AARON 

Excellent! Now what does the story tell us about what 
happened when Abraham returned to Beth El? 

JOSHUA 

I don't remember. 

AARON 

Look at chapter 13, verses 14-17, and tell me. 

JOSHUA 

(Reading silently.) 
Oh, yeah, now I remember. God told Abraham to look around 
him in all directions because God will give all the land which 
Abraham sees to his seed forever. 

AARON 

So God made the same promise to Abraham that He did 
before, namely, that the Land of Canaan would belong to 
Abraham's descendants. But what did God add this time? 
Read verse 16 aloud. 

JOSHUA 

"And I will make thy seed as the dust of the earth; so that if 
a man can number the dust of the earth, then shall thy seed 
also be numbered." 



106 



LOOKING BACK: Four Plays 

AARON 

Can you tell me in your own words what that means? 

JOSHUA 

That Abraham will have lots of descendants. 

AARON 

Excellent! Now what did Abraham do after he heard God's 
new promise? 

JOSHUA 

Beats me. 

AARON 

Read verse 18 to yourself and tell me. 

JOSHUA 

(Looking in his book.) 
Oh, yeah. Abraham moved to Hebron. 

AARON 

Do you know where Hebron is? 

JOSHUA 

Not exactly. 

AARON 

Further south. In other words, after arriving in the Land of 
Canaan, first Abraham lived in Shechem and then he moved 
south to Beth El and then he moved further south to Hebron. 

JOSHUA 

And in each place he built an altar to God. Even when he 
moved to Hebron it says, "and built there an altar unto 
God." 



107 



GOOD OLD ABRAHAM 

AARON 



Right. 



JOSHUA 

Why did Abraham need so many altars? 

AARON 

Because in each place he wanted to thank God by making a 
sacrifice to Him on an altar. 

JOSHUA 

Too bad they didn't have portable altars in those days. 

AARON 

What important lesson do we learn from this story? 

JOSHUA 

If they had portable altars, it would have saved Abraham a lot 
of work. 

AARON 

The lesson is that it's important to be grateful. Always 
remember that, Josh. To be grateful and to express one's 
gratitude. And what did we learn in chapter 15? 

VOICE O.S. 

Do not be afraid, Abram. Your reward will be great. 

ABRAHAM 

But God, what will You give me, considering that I am 
childless and my only heir is my servant Eliezer? 

VOICE O.S. 

No, that man will not be your heir. 



108 



LOOKING BACK: Four Plays 

ABRAHAM 

But, God, You have given me no seed! 

VOICE O.S. 

Someone who comes out of your body will be your heir. 

ABRAHAM 

Oh, God! Can that be so? 

VOICE O.S. 

Look up at the sky and count the stars, if you can. That is 
how plentiful I will make your seed. 

JOSHUA 

(Turns some pages while studying his book.) 
God again promised Abraham that he will have descendants. 

AARON 

Right. 

JOSHUA 

But this time it says, "... the word of God came to Abram 
in a vision." Does that mean God didn't actually appear to 
Abraham physically but only in Abraham's imagination, 
or even that only God's voice was heard by Abraham and 
Abraham didn't even see anything? 

AARON 

The text doesn't make it clear. The main thing is that God 
spoke to Abraham. 

JOSHUA 

Or maybe Abraham thought God spoke to him? 



109 



GOOD OLD ABRAHAM 

AARON 

You have to take these things on faith. And did God describe 
the Land of Canaan to Abraham on that occasion? 

JOSHUA 

It says "...from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the 
river Euphrates. .." 

AARON 

Excellent! Let's go on to chapter 16. Just read the first verse 
to me. 

JOSHUA 

"Now Sarai, Abram's wife, bore him no children; and she 
had a handmaid, an Egyptian, whose name was Hagar." 

What's a handmaid? 

AARON 

A female slave. 

JOSHUA 

But how did Hagar become Sarah's slave? 

AARON 

The Bible doesn't tell us, but according to our oral tradition, 
Hagar was the Pharaoh's daughter and the Pharaoh gave 
Hagar to Sarah as a handmaid when Abraham and Sarah 
were in Egypt. 

During the following exchange between SARAH and HAGAR, 
AARON and JOSHUA continue with their study session, but 
their words are inaudible to the audience. 

SARAH 

Perhaps Abram is not too old to have a child. 



no 



LOOKING BACK; Four Plays 

HAGAR 

How so, my lady? 

SARAH 

He has not aged as I have. 

HAGAR 

That is the way of the world, my lady. We women age much 
faster than the men. 

SARAH 

My husband is still strong and vigorous. 

HAGAR 

I noticed, my lady. 

SARAH 

He still tries to have a child. 

HAGAR 

I know, my lady. 

SARAH 

I think I am the problem. 

HAGAR 

What do you mean, my lady? 

SARAH 

I am the barren one. 

HAGAR 

Abram loves you, my lady, barren or not. 



in 



GOOD OLD ABRAHAM 

SARAH 

And I love him, too. 

HAGAR 

I know, my lady. 

SARAH 

And my fondest wish is to make my husband happy. 

HAGAR 

I noticed that, my lady. 

SARAH 

But what is a couple without a child? 

HAGAR 

A family without a future, my lady. 

SARAH 

My husband will never be happy without a child. 

HAGAR 

That seems to be true, my lady. 

SARAH 

And I want to make my husband happy. 

HAGAR stops brushing SARAH'S hair. SARAH looks at 
herself in the mirror. 

HAGAR 

I have an idea, my lady. 

SARAH 

What is it, Hagar? 



112 



LOOKING BACK: Four Plays 

HAGAR 

I know a way for you and Abram to have a child, my lady. 

SARAH 

After all these years!? How? 

HAGAR 

It is very simple, my lady. 

SARAH 

Really? 

HAGAR 

So simple I do not know why I never thought of it before, my 
lady. 

SARAH 

Tell me! 

HAGAR 

In all the years I have been serving you, it never crossed my 
mind before, my lady. 

SARAH 

What do you have in mind? Tell me already! 

HAGAR 

It involves me, my lady. 

SARAH 

You? 

HAGAR 

Am I not your handmaid, my lady? 



113 



GOOD OLD ABRAHAM 

SARAH 

You certainly are, Hagar. 

HAGAR 

As your handmaid, do I not have to obey your every 
command, my lady? 

SARAH 

You certainly do. 

HAGAR 

What if you commanded me to go into your husband's tent at 
night, my lady? 

SARAH 

What are you saying? 

HAGAR 

To conceive his child, my lady. 

SARAH 

Am I hearing you correctly? 

HAGAR 

If I conceived and bore your husband's child, my lady. . . 

SARAH 

Yes? 

HAGAR 

The child would be yours, my lady. 

SARAH 

Go on. 



114 



LOOKING BACK: Four Plays 

HAGAR 

As is the custom when a handmaid bears a child, my lady. 

SARAH 

Go on. 

HAGAR 

It is the mistress who is deemed to be the mother. 

SARAH 

Go on. 

HAGAR 

Not the handmaid, my lady. 

SARAH 

I see. 

HAGAR 

I would simply be the vessel in which your husband's seed 
grows, my lady. 

SARAH 

I see what you are saying. 

HAGAR 

After the child is born, I would nurse it until it was weaned, 
my lady. 

SARAH 

Of course, I could not. 

HAGAR 

But the child would be yours, my lady. 



115 



GOOD OLD ABRAHAM 

SARAH 



Understood. 



HAGAR 

The child would call you "Mother," my lady, not me. 

SARAH 

And you, Hagar? What would you be? 

HAGAR 

Nothing, my lady, only the handmaid who gave the child 
birth. 

SARAH 

(Turns to look at HAGAR.) 
It would be very difficult for me to do what you suggest, 
Hagar. 

HAGAR 

I know, my lady. 

SARAH 

I love my husband very much. 

HAGAR 

I am well aware of that, my lady. 

SARAH 

In all our years together, I have not strayed. Not once. 

HAGAR 

I know, my lady. 

SARAH 

Not even when we were in Egypt, rumors notwithstanding. 



116 



LOOKING BACK.: Four Plays 

HAGAR 

I know, my lady. 

SARAH 

Nor has he. 

HAGAR 

Your mutual love is clear as the night star, my lady. 

SARAH 

Our love has lasted all these many years. 

HAGAR 

I know, my lady. 

SARAH 

Through all these endless wanderings. 

HAGAR 

Yes, my lady. 

SARAH 

Through abundance and famine. 

HAGAR 

Yes, my lady. 

SARAH 

Through all the pain of childlessness. 

HAGAR 

I feel your pain, my lady. 

SARAH 

My husband and I have loved each other without reservation. 

117 



GOOD OLD ABRAHAM 

HAGAR 

And all you want is to make your husband happy, as you said, 
my lady. 

SARAH 

True. How well you understand me, Hagar! 

HAGAR 

But, as you said, my lady, the only way to make your husband 
happy is to give him his own child. 

SARAH 

So it seems. 

HAGAR 

And having his own child would fulfill his God's promise to 
him, my lady. 

SARAH 

True. The child would be his seed. 

HAGAR 

And that is reason enough to allow me to help you, my lady. 

SARAH 

I hesitate. I am confused. I do not know what to do. 

HAGAR 

(Pause.) 
This I promise you, my lady. As soon as I find out that I have 
conceived, I will no longer go into your husband's tent. 

HAGAR resumes brushing SARAH'S hair while looking over 
at ABRAHAM. SARAH is lost in thought. 



118 



LOOKING BACK: Four Plays 

AARON 

Please turn to chapter 16, verse 2, and read it to me aloud. 

JOSHUA searches in his book, leafing back and forth. 
AARON helps him find the right page and points to the spot. 

JOSHUA 

"And Sarai said unto Abram: 'Behold now, God has 
restrained me from bearing; go in, I pray thee, unto my 
handmaid; it may be that I shall be built up through her... 9 " 

On stage, SARAH gets up from her seat on the pillows, walks 
out of the tent and over to ABRAHAM, who is on his knees 
looking at the sky. When he notices her, ABRAHAM gets up 
and walks toward SARAH. He greets SARAH with a warm 
embrace, which she reciprocates. She whispers something in 
ABRAHAM'S ear, and he whispers something in hers. They 
go back and forth several times whispering to each other. 
HAGAR, in the tent, watches ABRAHAM and SARAH and 
smiles. After a while, still smiling, HAGAR exits at stage left. 

AARON 

Okay. Stop. Can you tell me in your own words what this 
section says? 

JOSHUA 

Sarah told Abraham that he should have a baby with Hagar. 

AARON 

And did Sarah tell Abraham why? 

JOSHUA 

Because she herself couldn't have children. 



119 



GOOD OLD ABRAHAM 

AARON 

Excellent! And what does "I shall be built up through her" 

mean? 

JOSHUA 

Beats me. 

AARON 

It probably means that Sarah's reputation would recover, 
because for a married woman to have no children was 
considered shameful in the old days. 

JOSHUA 

But maybe it was Abraham who couldn't have children rather 
than Sarah. Too bad they didn't have fertility tests. Then 
Abraham and Sarah could both be tested. 

AARON 

In those days they assumed it was the wife's fault if a couple 
had no children. 

JOSHUA 

How bizarre! 

AARON 

So Sarah was hoping Hagar would bear Abraham's child. 

JOSHUA 

But wouldn't it be Hagar, not Sarah, who would be the mother 
of Abraham's child? 

AARON 

It was the rule that a slave's child belonged to the master or 
mistress. Hagar was Sarah's slave. 



120 



LOOKING BACK: Four Flays 

JOSHUA 



Not Abraham's? 



AARON 

No. And don't forget that even in America, during slavery, a 
slave's child didn't belong to the slave but rather to the slave- 
owner. 

JOSHUA 

That's not fair! If Hagar had a baby, wouldn't it only be right 
to let her keep and mother her own child? 

AARON 

I agree it wasn't fair. And we have come a long way since 
then in our ideas of fairness. For one thing, we've done away 
with slavery. 

JOSHUA 

Can you imagine how Mom would have felt if she couldn't 
keep me? 

AARON 

(Pats JOSHUA 'S head lovingly.) 
Mom loved you very much. She wouldn't have given you up 
for anything. But let's go on. What does it say next? Please 
read it to me. 

JOSHUA 

"AndAbram hearkened to the voice ofSaraL And Sarai, 
Abram's wife, took Hagar the Egyptian, her handmaid... 
and gave her to Abram her husband to be his wife." 

AARON 

So Abraham did as Sarah suggested. 



121 



GOOD OLD ABRAHAM 

JOSHUA 

Do you think maybe Abraham agreed because he fancied 
Hagar and this was his chance to hang out with her? 

AARON 

I'd like to think it wasn't lust but faith that made Abraham act 
the way he did. He probably thought that in view of Sarah's 
age, there was no other way for God's promise that his seed 
would inherit the Land of Canaan to be fulfilled. 

JOSHUA 

You really believe Abraham hung out with Hagar just because 
of his faith? 

AARON 

I do. 

JOSHUA 

Hah! And do you think it was Sarah's idea to have Abraham 
and Hagar get together? Or was it Hagar's? 

AARON 

What do you think? 

JOSHUA 

I'll bet it was Hagar's idea. 

AARON 

Why do you think so? 

JOSHUA 

(Glancing over his left shoulder at the main stage.) 
Oh, I don't know. I think Hagar fancied Abraham, just like he 
did her. 



122 



LOOKING BACK: Four Plays 

AARON 

The Bible doesn't tell us who first came up with the idea, 
but you may be right. Now let's continue. Did Hagar become 
pregnant? 

JOSHUA 

Beats me. 

AARON 

Look at verse 4. What does it say? 

JOSHUA 
It says, "... and she conceived." 

AARON 

Excellent! That means she got pregnant. And what happened 
after Hagar became pregnant with Abraham's baby? Please 
read the rest of verse 4 to me. 

JOSHUA 
"... and when she saw that she had conceived, her mistress 
was despised in her eyes. 



99 



On stage, SARAH is standing next to ABRAHAM, whispering 
in his ear. HAGAR, visibly pregnant, walks out of the tent 
and circles haughtily around the couple. SARAH and 
ABRAHAM go bach and forth several times whispering to 
each other. Intermittently each stares at HAGAR, who smiles 
at ABRAHAM but frowns at SARAH. 

AARON 

So after Hagar became pregnant, things didn't go as smoothly 
as Abraham and Sarah expected. 



123 



GOOD OLD ABRAHAM 

JOSHUA 

Serves them right. Using Hagar for their own purposes! 

AARON 

What did Sarah tell Abraham about the situation? Read 
chapter 16, verse 5, and tell me in your own words. 

JOSHUA 

(Reading in his book.) 
She told Abraham it was all his fault that Hagar became so 
uppity after she got pregnant. 

AARON 

And what did Abraham say to Sarah after she blamed him for 
the situation? Read verse 6 aloud. 

JOSHUA 
"... But Abram said to Sarai: 'Behold, thy maid is in thy 
hand; do to her that which is good in thine eyes... 9 " 

AARON 

Stop. So what did Abraham say? Did he try to lay blame on 
Sarah, as Sarah did on him? 

JOSHUA 

No, he didn't. But he seemed to blame Hagar, because he said 
to Sarah that she could punish Hagar if she wished. And then 
it says that Sarah did. 

AARON 

Don't forget that Hagar was still Sarah's slave, pregnant or 
not. 



124 



LOOKING BACK: Four Piays 

JOSHUA 

If I was in Hagar's shoes, I would have run away. Like some 
slaves did in America. 

Lighting on the main stage is dimmed. ABRAHAM and 
SARAH exit through the tent at stage left, and HAGAR, near 
center stage, is illuminated. She looks in all directions, as if 
trying to get her bearings. As she walks back and forth on 
stage, seeking the direction she should follow, it is evident 
that she is big with child. She walks with difficulty, over and 
around the rocks and branches that litter the ground, toward 
the center of the downstage area. She stumbles as she walks, 
and eventually falls, seemingly exhausted, to the ground. She 
sobs. 

i HAGAR 

I was so loyal to Sarai! I offered to suffer the discomfort of 
pregnancy for her. And the pain of childbirth. And to bear a 
child for her just so the promise of her husband's God would 
be fulfilled. And how did she repay me, that barren woman? 
With jealousy! Yes, it was jealousy that made her abuse me. 
Womanly jealousy, nothing less. And during my pregnancy, 
too! She made me so upset that sometimes I wondered if 
she wanted me to lose the baby. If only Abram saw how she 
mistreated me, he would have put an end to the abuse. He is 
so kind and gentle. He appreciated my sacrifice on behalf of 
his wife. I cannot help loving that man. Oh, Abram! Where 
are you when I need you? And where is your God? 

VOICE O.S. 

Hagar! Where are you going? 

HAGAR 

(Looking around for the source of the voice.) 
Who are you? 



125 



GOOD OLD ABRAHAM 

VOICE O.S. 



I am Abram's God. 



HAGAR 

Oh?! I am fleeing from my mistress. 

VOICE O.S. 

Return to your mistress, Hagar, and submit yourself to her. 

HAGAR 

Why should I? She has mistreated me. 

VOICE O.S. 

Look, Hagar, you are pregnant with a child. 

HAGAR 

Do You think I am not aware of it? 

VOICE O.S. 

You will bear a son. 

HAGAR 

A son! 

VOICE O.S. 

And you will name your son "Ishmael" - God will hear - 
because God has heard your suffering. 

HAGAR 

(Sitting up and wiping the tears off her face.) 
Ishmael! 

VOICE O.S. 

And through Ishmael I will greatly multiply your 
descendants, so they could not even be counted. 



126 



LOOKING BACK: Four Plays 

HAGAR 

(Looks up at the sky, her face brightened with a smile.) 
You are the God of Seeing, because you saw me! Maybe 
Abram's God exists after all! 

HAGAR gets up, brushes herself off, and heads back to where 
she came from, toward center stage. Although the ground 
is littered with rocks and branches, she walks with great 
assurance and speed, a smile on her face. When she reaches 
her destination, ABRAHAM and SARAH run out of the tent 
toward her to greet her, each hugging her in turn. 

AARON 

And what happened next? Please read chapter 16, verse 15, to 
yourself and tell me. 

JOSHUA 

(Reading to himself.) 
Hagar had a baby boy and Abraham named him "Ishmael." 

AARON 

And how old was Abraham when Ishmael was born? It tells 
you in the next verse. 

JOSHUA 

(Looking in his book.) 
Eighty six years old! Do you believe this stuff? 

AARON 

That's what the Bible tells us. But then, the Bible skips the 
first thirteen years of Ishmael's life. It goes on to tell us what 
happened when Abraham was ninety-nine years old. 



127 



GOOD OLD ABRAHAM 

JOSHUA 

Why does it skip the important part? I would have liked to 
know more about how Ishmael grew up. Did he consider 
Sarah his real mother? 

AARON 

The Bible doesn't say, but I can't imagine why Ishmael 
wouldn't have considered Sarah to be his real mother, 
although he may have been told that Hagar was his birth 
mother. I would assume both Abraham and Sarah loved 
Ishmael with all their hearts. After all, they had waited for 
decades to have a child. What do you think, Josh? 

JOSHUA 

I agree. I can just imagine little Ishmael being cuddled by 
Abraham and Sarah, and by Hagar, too. Actually Ishmael had 
three parents, and among them two mothers. How wonderful 
that must have been! I still remember when Mom was around. 

AARON 

(Patting JOSHUA lovingly on the head.) 
Your mother loved you very much. 

JOSHUA 

I'm sure Hagar didn't stop loving Ishmael just because of 
some silly rules about children born to slaves. 

AARON 

You're probably right. But then look at what happened when 
Ishmael was thirteen years old. 

JOSHUA 

What? 



128 



LOOKING BACK: Four Plays 

AARON 

See chapter 17, verses 15-16. Please read them aloud. 

JOSHUA 

"And God said unto Abraham: As for Sarai thy wife, thou 
shalt not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall her name be. 999 

What's the difference between "Sarai" and "Sarah"? 

AARON 

"Sarai" means "princess" but "Sarah" means "queen." 

JOSHUA 

So the princess became a queen? 

AARON 

Right. Now read verse 16 to yourself and tell me what it says. 

JOSHUA 

(Reading to himself.) 
God told Abraham that Sarah will have her own baby. But, 
Dad, is that possible? If Ishmael is 13, then Abraham, who 
was 86 when Ishmael was born, must be 99, and since you 
told me Sarah was ten years younger than Abraham, she must 
be 89, so she probably won't have a baby till she's 90. Can a 
90 year old woman have a baby? 

AARON 

According to this story she can. 

JOSHUA 

This is incredible! 

AARON 

That's what Abraham thought, too. 



129 



GOOD OLD ABRAHAM 

At center stage, ABRAHAM is on his knees, bowing. SARAH 
is standing in the tent watching ABRAHAM. 

VOICE O.S. 

I will bless Sarah. 

ABRAHAM 

But God, You have already blessed us more than we deserve. 

VOICE O.S. 

I will give you a son by her. 

ABRAHAM 

You will give me a son by Sarah?! 

VOICE O.S. 

Yes, by your wife, Sarah. 

ABRAHAM 

Thank You, God, but how is that possible? 

VOICE O.S. 

For God, all things are possible. 

ABRAHAM 

Can a ninety-year old woman bear a child? 

VOICE O.S. 

If God wills it she can. 

ABRAHAM 

(Falls on his face and laughs.) 
Ha-Ha-Ha! 



130 



LOOKING BACK: Four Plays 

SARAH 

(In the tent, joins in Abraham's laughter.) 
Ha-Ha-Ha-Ha! 

VOICE O.S. 

And you will call Sarah's son "Isaac." 

ABRAHAM 

Why should I call Sarah's son "Isaac"? 

VOICE O.S. 

Because you laughed when you heard that Sarah will bear 
you a son. 

ABRAHAM 

Because I laughed? I laughed because what You say is 
laughable. And I heard Sarah laughing, too. Who would not 
laugh upon hearing that a ninety year old woman will bear a 
child? 

VOICE O.S. 

I will establish my covenant with Isaac and his seed forever. 

ABRAHAM 

But what will become of my beloved son, Ishmael? 

VOICE O.S. 

Don't worry. I will bless and multiply Ishmael and he will 
become a great nation. 

SARAH, still laughing, emerges from the tent and walks 
toward ABRAHAM. He gets up when he hears her footsteps 
and they embrace, then walk together hand in hand into the 
tent and exit at stage left. 



131 



GOOD OLD ABRAHAM 

AARON 

And did you read something about God's covenant in chapter 
17? 

JOSHUA 

I read about how God told Abraham to circumcise all the 
males in his household as a sign of God's covenant with him. 
And they were all circumcised on the same day. 

AARON 

Excellent! 

JOSHUA 

Does that mean that Abraham was circumcised when he was 
ninety-nine years old? 

AARON 

So we're told. And how old was Ishmael when he was 
circumcised? 



Thirteen. 



Excellent! 



JOSHUA 



AARON 



JOSHUA 



Oh jeez! That's gross! 



AARON 

Please, Joshua! Circumcision is our covenant with God. It's 
been our covenant for four thousand years. Please try to show 
it more respect. 



132 



LOOKING BACK: Four Flays 

JOSHUA 



Phew! 



AARON 

Okay. Let's move on. How about chapter 18? Did you get the 
essence of the story about the three strangers whom Abraham 
invited to his tent? 

JOSHUA 

(Looking in his book.) 
Yes, they brought a message from God that Sarah would have 
a baby. 

AARON 

And what mission were they going on when they left 
Abraham? 

JOSHUA 

To destroy Sodom because of its wickedness. 

AARON 

That's a very important story. What did Abraham say when 
he heard that God was planning to destroy Sodom? Read 
chapter 18, verses 23-24, to me. 

JOSHUA 

(Leafing through his book, then stopping and reading) 
"And Abraham drew near, and said: 'Wilt Thou indeed 
sweep away the righteous with the wicked? If there are fifty 
righteous within the city, wilt Thou indeed sweep away 
and not forgive the place for the fifty righteous that are 
within? 9 " 

AARON 

Stop. What was Abraham doing? 



133 



GOOD OLD ABRAHAM 

JOSHUA 

He was arguing with God about whether God should destroy 
Sodom. He was probably worried about his nephew Lot. 
Didn't Lot live in Sodom? 

AARON 

He did. But Abraham was doing more than that. What was he 
challenging? 

JOSHUA 

He was challenging God's idea of justice. 

AARON 

Excellent! How did Abraham do that? 

JOSHUA 

Abraham argued that the city should not be destroyed if there 
were fifty righteous people in it. 

ABRAHAM emerges from the tent and walks toward center 
stage. He gets on his knees and bows, then looks at the sky. 

AARON and JOSHUA continue with their lesson. Their 
words are inaudible to the audience. 

ABRAHAM 

What if You find fifty righteous people in Sodom? Will You 
still destroy the city? 

VOICE O.S. 

If I find fifty righteous people within the city of Sodom, I will 
forgive the whole place for their sake. 



134 



LOOKING BACK: Four Plays 

ABRAHAM 

And what if five are lacking from the fifty righteous ones? 
Will You destroy the city because five are lacking? 

VOICE O.S. 

I will not destroy it if I find there forty five. 

ABRAHAM 

What if there are forty innocent ones there? 

VOICE O.S. 

I will not destroy the city, for the forty's sake. 

ABRAHAM 

What if thirty righteous people are found there? 

VOICE O.S. 

I will not do it if I find thirty there. 

ABRAHAM 

What if there are twenty righteous people found in Sodom? 

VOICE O.S. 

I will not destroy the city for the twenty's sake. 

ABRAHAM 

Please do not be angry. I know I am only dust and ashes. But 
God, what if only ten righteous people are found there? 

VOICE O.S. 

Then I will not destroy Sodom. 

ABRAHAM 

Thank You, God! You are indeed a God of justice! 



135 



GOOD OLD ABRAHAM 

ABRAHAM bows and returns to the tent, then exits at stage left. 

AARON 

Abraham's idea of justice was quite advanced for his time. He 
didn't believe that the innocent should be punished with the 
guilty. Nor do we today. 

JOSHUA 

But why did he stop challenging God when he reached ten 
righteous people? Why didn't he challenge God for wanting 
to destroy the city if there was even one innocent person 
there? 

AARON 

Good question. Actually, in the Jewish tradition, even 
one innocent life is worth saving. Did you ever hear the 
expression, "Saving a single person is like saving the whole 
world"? 

JOSHUA 

Yes, I think it was in Schindler's List. But did God end up 
destroying Sodom? 

AARON 

He did. 

JOSHUA 

You mean God couldn't even find ten innocent people there? 

AARON 

Apparently not. 

JOSHUA 

How many innocent people do you think there were in 
Sodom? 



136 



LOOKING BACK: Four Plays 

AARON 

According to the story, only four: Lot and his wife and their 
two daughters. 

JOSHUA 

And what happened to them? 

AARON 

God let them escape from Sodom. But if you want to know 
the whole story of Lot's escape, read chapter 19, verses 15-26. 
Maybe we can discuss it next Sabbath. 

JOSHUA leafs through his book, then finds the correct spot 
and begins reading silently to himself, as does AARON. 



CURTAIN 



137 



LOOKING BACK: Four Plays 

ACT THREE 

A couple of weeks have passed. As the curtain rises, AARON 
and JOSHUA enter together from stage right and seat 
themselves at the table, as before, then open the books in 
front of them. 

AARON 

Do you remember what we studied last Sabbath? It was the 
beginning of chapter 21 of Genesis. 

ABRAHAM and ISHMAEL enter the tent from stage left, then 
walk through it and emerge through the tent doorway. They 
walk over to the altar upstage. 

ABRAHAM 

Listen to me carefully, Ishmael. I am going to teach you about 
sacrificing to God. You are now old enough to understand 
how to thank God properly for all His blessings. 

ISHMAEL 

I am listening, Father. 

ABRAHAM 

First you fetch a choice lamb. 

ISHMAEL 

Why does it need to be a choice one? 

ABRAHAM 

God wants and deserves the best, my son. 

ISHMAEL 

But what does "the best" mean? 



139 



GOOD OLD ABRAHAM 

ABRAHAM 

What we value the most. 

ISHMAEL 

And what is that? 

ABRAHAM 

Here is an example, Ishmael. Of all the lambs I have given 
you, do you have a favorite lamb? 

ISHMAEL 

Of course I do. The white one. 

ABRAHAM 

Well, if you make a sacrifice to God, it is the white one that 
you have to sacrifice. 

ISHMAEL 

But why, Father, would I have to sacrifice a lamb I love so 
much? 

ABRAHAM 

Because then God knows that you are willing to give up 
something that is very dear to you. Giving up what is very 
dear to you is what makes it a sacrifice. 

ISHMAEL 

Oh! 

ABRAHAM 

Let us do it, Ishmael, so you will always remember that God 
wants and deserves the best we have. Go get your white lamb 
and bring it to the altar so you can sacrifice it to God to thank 
Him for all He has done for you. I will show you how to bind 
your white lamb and how to place it on the altar and burn it. 



140 



LOOKING BACK: Four Plays 

ISHMAEL 



Oh! 



ISHMAEL stares at ABRAHAM, tears in his eyes, then 
hesitantly walks to the tent, enters it and exits it at stage left. 

ABRAHAM 

(Calling after ISHMAEL.) 
I will get the strings and the knife and the fire, and meet you 
back at the altar! 

ABRAHAM walks upstage, where he exits. 

JOSHUA 

(Looking in his book.) 
We studied that Isaac was born and was weaned, and 
that Sarah and Abraham made a big feast to celebrate the 
occasion. 

ABRAHAM, SARAH, HAGAR and ISHMAEL enter the tent 
from stage left and begin celebrating They dance while 
playing musical instruments. ABRAHAM intermittently 
blows the horn, while SARAH and HAGAR play the cymbal 
and ISHMAEL plays the flute. Suddenly, ABRAHAM stops 
playing, hands his horn to ISHMAEL and exits the tent. 
Outside, he goes down on his knees and looks up at the sky. 

ABRAHAM 

Thank You God, for bringing us to this happy day! Isaac is 
now weaned. He is a strong boy. We could not have done it 
without Your help! 

In the tent, SARAH stops dancing and playing, hands her 
cymbal to HAGAR, and walks toward the tent doorway. For 
a moment she stands there, watching ABRAHAM, then walks 



141 



GOOD OLD ABRAHAM 

out toward him. ABRAHAM gets up when he hears SARAH'S 
footsteps. They embrace. 

SARAH 

(Looking up at the sky.) 
Please forgive me, God, for doubting You for so many 
years, while Abraham kept on believing in what seemed 
unbelievable. Now that I have born Isaac, and now that he 
is weaned, I know it could not have been done without You. 
Thank You, God, for giving Abraham and me a son and for 
bringing us to this joyous day! 

SARAH and ABRAHAM embrace again. 

ABRAHAM 

My dear Sarah, I love you all the more for sharing my faith. 

SARAH 

Your faith is true, Abraham. It took me years, but I finally 
realized it. Without God's help, how could an old, barren 
woman conceive and give birth to a son? 

ABRAHAM 

Yes, Sarah. And, because of your own faith, soon God may 
appear to you, as He has to me. 

SARAH 

I will then thank Him again and personally. But how will I 
know it is God who is appearing to me? What does God look 
like? Does He always appear the same? 

ABRAHAM 

No, Sarah. God appears differently at different times. But His 
voice never changes. You will recognize Him by His voice. 



142 



LOOKING BACK: Four Plays 

SARAH 

What does His voice sound like? 

ABRAHAM 

You will know it when you hear it. 

SARAH 

But, Abraham, how would I be able to recognize it? I have 
never heard it! 

ABRAHAM 

For one thing, it is a male voice. 

SARAH 

But there are many male voices. How would I know that it is 
the right one? 

ABRAHAM 

You will know, Sarah. Trust me. 

SARAH 

I cannot see how, Abraham. Please let me hear you imitate it. 

ABRAHAM 

No, Sarah. God might consider it presumptuous of me. 

SARAH 

He would not do anything of the sort, Abraham. You told 
me yourself that God is all-knowing. So God knows how 
unassuming and God-fearing you are. 

ABRAHAM 

I am certainly God-fearing. 



143 



GOOD OLD ABRAHAM 

SARAH 

But if you do not let me know what God's voice sounds 
like, there is a danger that I might not recognize it as God's 
voice when He speaks to me. And then, if He orders me 
to do something and I do not, or if He orders me not to do 
something and I do, I would be disobeying Him. 

ABRAHAM 

(Pause.) 
I would not want you to disobey God because of my 
failure, Sarah. That would be as if I myself disobeyed Him. 
Therefore, I will try to imitate God's voice for you so you can 
obey God when you hear His voice. Please listen carefully so 
you can always remember what God's voice sounds like. 

As the VOICE O.S. is heard during the following exchange, 
ABRAHAM'S lips move as if he himself is speaking. 

VOICE O.S. 

Sarah! Can you hear Me? 

SARAH 

Yes, I can! 

VOICE O.S. 

I am your God. 

SARAH 

I hear You! 

VOICE O.S. 

Will you recognize God's voice when you hear it again? 

SARAH 

I will! I will never forget it! Thank you, Abraham! 



144 



LOOKING BACK: Four Plays 

SARAH and ABRAHAM embrace and kiss, then walk hand- 
in-hand back into the tent and rejoin the festivities, dancing 
and playing their musical instruments in the company of 
HAGAR and ISHMAEL. 

AARON 

And what did Ishmael do at the feast? It tells us in chapter 21, 
verse 9. 

JOSHUA 

(Looking in his book.) 
It says that Ishmael was "making sport" of Isaac. 

Suddenly, ISHMAEL stops and, still holding his flute, walks 
over to the pile of pillows and disappears behind it. After a 
moment or two, SARAH stops and follows ISHMAEL. She 
looks behind the pile of pillows, then disappears in back of 
the pile. SARAH is heard screaming. 

AARON 

What do you suppose "making sport" means? 

JOSHUA 

Ishmael was kidding Isaac? 

AARON 

Scholars have not been able to agree on the meaning of 
"making sport." Some have suggested that Ishmael was 
mocking Isaac. 

JOSHUA 

Maybe Ishmael was jealous of all the attention Isaac was 
getting. I don't blame him. 



145 



GOOD OLD ABRAHAM 

AARON 

You may be right. At any rate Ishmael did something to Isaac 
that made Sarah furious. In view of Sarah's strong reaction, 
some scholars have even suggested that Ishmael may have 
engaged in sexually abusing his little brother. 

JOSHUA 

Maybe Sarah just used whatever Ishmael did as an excuse to 
complain to Abraham. 

AARON 

That's possible. 

JOSHUA 

Because once she had Isaac, she did a one eighty, because she 
didn't feel a need for Ishmael any longer. Poor Ishmael! His 
mother Sarah stopped loving him. That's so sad, it's pathetic. 

AARON 

So what does verse 10 tell us Sarah said to Abraham? Please 
read it silently to yourself and tell me. 

JOSHUA reads to himself, as does AARON. At the sound of 
SARAH'S scream, ABRAHAM and HAGAR stop playing and 
dancing. 

SARAH 

(Calling from behind the pile of pillows.) 
Hagar! Come here at once! 

HAGAR 

Coming, my lady! 

HAGAR dutifully hurries and disappears behind the pile of 
pillows. After a moment, HAGAR and ISHMAEL exit at stage 



146 



LOOKING BACK.: Four Plays 

left. SARAH emerges from behind the pile of pillows, walks 
over to ABRAHAM, who is now standing alone in the tent, 
seemingly perplexed, and grabs him by the arm. Startled, he 
drops his horn. SARAH quickly leads him out of the tent to 
center stage. 

ABRAHAM 

What is it, Sarah? 

SARAH 

I want you to cast out Hagar and Ishmael! 

ABRAHAM 

What do you mean when you say "cast them out"? 

SARAH 

What do you think I mean? Kick them out! 

ABRAHAM 

But why, Sarah, why? 

SARAH 

I have had enough of them. 

ABRAHAM 

I do not understand. Hagar has been your faithful handmaid 
all these years. 

SARAH 

It is time for her to go, and to take her son with her. 

ABRAHAM 

But Ishmael is your son. He calls you "Mother." 



147 



GOOD OLD ABRAHAM 

SARAH 

That is irrelevant. Hagar and Ishmael simply have to go. 

ABRAHAM 

But what have they done? 

SARAH 

Ishmael has made sport of Isaac. 

ABRAHAM 

Has made sport? What do you mean? 

SARAH 

Actually, whatever Ishmael has done pales in comparison to 
the fact that he stands to share in your wealth, and I will not 
allow it. 

ABRAHAM 

But Sarah, surely there is plenty for both our sons. God has 
blessed us with many riches. There is no reason why one of 
our sons should be deprived of my worldly goods for the sake 
of the other. 

SARAH 

I have to defend Isaac's rights. He and he alone is my son. 

ABRAHAM 

What are you saying, Sarah? For more than thirteen years 
Ishmael was your only son. You were his mother, and no son 
was ever more loved by his mother than Ishmael was by you. 

SARAH 

Ishmael is Hagar's son, not mine. 



148 



LOOKING BACK.: Four Plays 

ABRAHAM 

And he is my son, too, and I love him. 

SARAH 

Does that mean you refuse to cast Hagar and Ishmael out? 

ABRAHAM 

Much as I love you, Sarah, I cannot do what you ask of me. It 
would not be right. God would never condone it. 

SARAH walks angrily into the tent and exits at stage left. 

JOSHUA 

Sarah wanted to get rid of Hagar and Ishmael so Ishmael 
wouldn't get any of Abraham's property. But that wasn't fair 
to Ishmael, because he was Abraham's son and should get 
some of Abraham's stuff if Abraham wants to give it to him. 

AARON 

And how did Abraham feel about what Sarah said? Read 
verse 11 to me. 

JOSHUA 

It says, "And the thing was very grievous in Abraham's 
sight... 



99 



AARON 

So what did Abraham do? Please read verse 12 to yourself 
and tell me. 

JOSHUA reads to himself, as does AARON. 

VOICE O.S. 

Do not be upset, Abraham. 



149 



GOOD OLD ABRAHAM 

ABRAHAM, standing at center stage, looks all around him, 
then falls to his knees and looks up at the sky. 

ABRAHAM 

How can I not be upset? Sarah wants me to cast out my son 
Ishmael! 

VOICE O.S. 

I know. 

ABRAHAM 

And she wants me to cast out Hagar! 

VOICE O.S. 

I know. I heard what Sarah said to you. But do not worry. 

ABRAHAM 

How can I not worry? I love Sarah but I love Ishmael too, and 
Hagar. . . 

VOICE O.S. 

You have to do what Sarah tells you to do. You have to listen 
to your wife. 

ABRAHAM 

Oh, my God! What will happen to my son? 

VOICE O.S. 

Your son Isaac will carry your seed. 

ABRAHAM 

But what about Ishmael? He is my son, too! 



150 



LOOKING BACK: Four Plays 

VOICE O.S. 

Do not worry. I will make Ishmael into a nation because he is 
your seed. 

ABRAHAM falls down to the ground and sobs. 

JOSHUA 

It's hard to believe that God would ask Abraham to kick out 
his son. 

AARON 

But God did. 

JOSHUA 

I don't understand. Why didn't Abraham challenge God, 
the way he did when God was planning to destroy Sodom? 
Do you remember how Abraham challenged God's justice? 
Wasn't God being unjust now, when he told Abraham to kick 
Ishmael out? So why didn't Abraham challenge Him? The 
story itself says that Abraham's own sense of justice made 
him feel that kicking Ishmael out was a wrong thing to do. 

AARON 

Why do you suppose Abraham didn't challenge God's justice 
this time? 

JOSHUA 

Beats me. 

AARON 

Think, Joshua! That's what God gave us a brain for. To think. 
This story has a moral to it. What do you suppose the story 
teaches us? 



151 



That God is unjust? 



I don't think so. 



GOOD OLD ABRAHAM 

JOSHUA 
AARON 



JOSHUA 

That a man should always listen to his wife, no matter what? 

AARON 

I don't think so. 

JOSHUA 

That a father should kick his son out for no good reason? 

AARON 

No. The story tells us something important about Abraham. 

JOSHUA 

That Abraham really didn't love Ishmael but only pretended 
to? 

AARON 

On the contrary. Abraham loved Ishmael very much. That's 
the whole point. What the story tells us is that Abraham 
was willing to give up one of his two sons, both of whom he 
cherished, if God asked him to. 

JOSHUA 

So what's that supposed to prove? 

AARON 

It shows that Abraham had increasing faith in God. He no 
longer undertook to argue with God or challenge Him in any 
way. Abraham no longer relied on his own reason and sense 



152 



LOOKING BACK: Four Hays 

of justice. Abraham was turning more and more away from 
reason toward faith. 

JOSHUA 

(Pause.) 
Dad, I want to ask you something. 

AARON 

What is it, Josh? 

JOSHUA 

Would you ever kick me out? 

AARON 

Of course not. 

JOSHUA 

Even if God told you to? 

AARON 

God has never spoken to me, and I doubt He ever will. 

JOSHUA 

But what if He did? 

AARON 

I still wouldn't. 

JOSHUA 

How come? 

AARON 

It wouldn't be reasonable to kick you out. And I'm a rational 
man. 



153 



GOOD OLD ABRAHAM 

JOSHUA 



Not a man of faith? 



AARON 



I'm also a man of faith. 



JOSHUA 

I guess you don't have as much faith as Abraham did, huh? 
You don't have enough faith to suspend your own reason and 
your own sense of justice? 

AARON 

Right. You have to realize, Josh, that abandoning reason 
altogether in favor of faith is one of the most difficult things 
in the world to do. And Abraham was able to do it. I'm afraid 
I'm not. 

JOSHUA 

Phew! 

AARON 

Well, let's go on. What does the story tell us Abraham did 
after God told him to listen to Sarah and cast Ishmael out? 
Please read verse 14 to me. 

JOSHUA 

"And Abraham arose up early in the morning, and took 
bread and a bottle of water, and gave it unto Hagar, putting 
it on her shoulder, and the child, and sent her away, and 
she departed, and strayed in the wilderness of Beer Sheba" 

Where is Beer Sheba? 

AARON 

South of Hebron. Hebron was where Abraham was living at 
the time. 



154 



LOOKING BACK: Four Plays 

JOSHUA 

Maybe Hagar was heading south toward Egypt, where she 
came from. Maybe she still had a family there. 

AARON 

Probably. 

ABRAHAM rises and walks into and through the tent. He 
exits at stage left, and, after a while, reenters, carrying 
two loaves of bread and two containers of water. He walks 
through the tent toward the tent doorway, followed by 
HAGAR and ISHMAEL. He stops and puts the provisions in 
HAGAR 'S and ISHMAEUS shoulder bags, hugs HAGAR, and 
whispers in her ear. She hugs him back and bursts into tears. 
ABRAHAM then turns to ISHMAEL and they embrace for a 
long moment. Both are sobbing. 

ISHMAEL 

I do not want to leave you, Father. 

ABRAHAM 

I wish you did not have to, Ishmael. 

IHMAEL 

I love you, Father. 

ABRAHAM 

I love you too, Ishmael. I love you very, very much. 

ISHMAEL 

So why do I have to leave? 

ABRAHAM 

It is God's will. 



155 



How do you know? 



GOOD OLD ABRAHAM 

ISHMAEL 
ABRAHAM 



God spoke to me. 

ISHMAEL 

You always taught me that God is just! 

ABRAHAM 

He is. 

ISHMAEL 

If God is just, how can He be so unjust as to tell a loving 
father to send his loving son away? 

ABRAHAM 

We cannot question God's justice. 

ISHMAEL 

But, Father! You once did. You yourself told me the story of 
Sodom and how God wanted to destroy the city and how you 
challenged God's justice then. 

ABRAHAM 

I have come to realize that God has His own idea of justice, 
which man may not comprehend. A man of faith must simply 
obey. 

ISHMAEL 

Oh, Father! 

ISHMAEL bursts into tears. ABRAHAM, sobbing, embraces 
ISHMAEL and kisses him on the cheek. ISHMAEL kisses 
ABRAHAM back, then walks away with his head bowed and 



156 



LOOKING BACK: Four Plays 

joins HAGAR. As HAGAR and ISHMAEL go out of the tent 
and depart toward stage right, ABRAHAM follows for a few 
steps, then breaks down, crying. He then turns around and 
walks slowly through the tent, exiting at stage left. 

JOSHUA 

So what happened to Hagar and to Ishmael? 

AARON 

Please read chapter 21, verses 15-20, to yourself and tell me 
in your own words. 

JOSHUA reads to himself, as does AARON. 

HAGAR and ISHMAEL pace this way and that on stage, 
trying to find their bearings. They intermittently wipe off their 
brows and drink from their water containers until these are 
empty. ISHMAEL fans himself with his hand, then removes 
his robe and discards it. HAGAR and ISHMAEL keep pacing 
back and forth, seemingly lost, and ISHMAEL eventually falls 
to the ground. He cries in agony, then appears unconscious. 
HAGAR drags him to a shady spot under the bush downstage. 
She then sits at some distance from him and looks away. 

HAGAR 

(Weeping.) 
Oh, God of Abraham! Let me not witness the death of the 
child! 

VOICE O.S. 

What is the matter, Hagar? I heard your voice calling Me. 

HAGAR 

My child, Abraham's child, is dying! 



157 



GOOD OLD ABRAHAM 

VOICE O.S. 

I heard the child's voice, too. 

HAGAR 

Please do not let him die! 

VOICE O.S. 

Do not worry. Just lift him up and hold him. 

HAGAR gets up and begins walking toward ISHMA EL. She 
notices the well nearby and, stopping, she fills a container 
with the well water and brings it to ISHMA EL to drink. 
ISHMAEL drinks and is revived. HAGAR helps him up onto 
his feet and holds him, and when he seems stable on his feet, 
she fetches his robe, which ISHMAEL puts on. HAGAR goes 
down on her knees and looks at the sky. 

HAGAR 

Thank You, God of Abraham, for letting Ishmael live! From 
now on, You are not only Abraham's God. You are also my 
God and the God of Ishmael! 

HAGAR and ISHMAEL stop by the well, fill up their 
containers with water, then walk toward stage right and exit. 

JOSHUA 

It says Hagar and Ishmael got lost in the desert but God saved 
them. 

AARON 

Right. And then we are told that Ishmael dwelled in the 
desert, and his mother picked an Egyptian wife for him. 



158 



LOOKING BACK: Four Flays 

JOSHUA 

I'll bet Ishmael still missed his father even after getting 
married. 

AARON 

I wouldn't be surprised. 

JOSHUA 

And I'll bet Abraham missed Ishmael, too. 

AARON 

I'm sure he did. 

JOSHUA 

And I'll bet Abraham was mad at Sarah for making him send 
Ishmael away. 

AARON 

Probably. 

JOSHUA 

And I'll bet Abraham could never forgive Sarah for what she 
did. 

AARON 

Forgiveness is difficult. But it's an important thing to do. 
Not just for the person who is forgiven but for the one who 
forgives. I hope you never forget that, Josh. Now let's go on 
to Genesis, chapter 22. Please read the first two verses to 
yourself and tell me what they say. 

JOSHUA reads to himself, as does AARON. 

ABRAHAM walks into the tent from stage left, places some 
pillows near the tent 's doorway, and sits down on the pillows, 



159 



GOOD OLD ABRAHAM 

looking out He gets up and walks out of the tent, looking 
around as if searching for someone, then goes back into the 
tent and resumes his seat by the tent 's doorway. 

VOICE O.S. 

Abraham! 

ABRAHAM 

(Rushing out of the tent and looking at the sky) 
Here I am. 

VOICE O.S. 

Take your son, your only son. . . 

ABRAHAM 

But I have two sons, Ishmael and Isaac. 

VOICE O.S. 

Take the son you love. . . 

ABRAHAM 

But I love both of my sons! 

VOICE O.S. 

Take Isaac. 

ABRAHAM 

Isaac? 

VOICE O.S. 

Yes, and go to the Land of Moriah. 

ABRAHAM 

It is quite a distance from here. 



160 



LOOKING BACK: Four Plays 

VOICE O.S. 



I know. 



ABRAHAM 

And what should I do when I get to the Land of Moriah? 

VOICE O.S. 

Offer Isaac there for a burnt offering on one of the mountains 
that I will show you. 

ABRAHAM falls to his knees and bows, then gets up and walks 
into the tent, exiting at stage left. He reenters the tent a while 
later, carrying a small container with aflame in it. ISAAC 
follows him, carrying a stack of branches. ABRAHAM and 
ISAAC walk through the tent and emerge, then proceed to walk 
from center stage to downstage. They walk side by side. 

JOSHUA 

God told Abraham to take Isaac to the Land of Moriah and 
offer Isaac there as a burnt offering to God. 

AARON 

Excellent! 

JOSHUA 

Seriously, Dad. These Bible stories are getting weirder by the 
minute! 

AARON 

Why do you say that? 

JOSHUA 

First God told Abraham to send Ishmael away, and now God 
tells Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. Well, Abraham only had two 
kids, and the thing he wanted most in the whole wide world 



161 



GOOD OLD ABRAHAM 

was to have kids. So why wouldn't God just leave him alone 
and let him keep Isaac? 

AARON 

Maybe God did. But we don't want to anticipate and spoil the 
suspense. What does it tell us in chapter 22, verse 3, about 
what Abraham did? 

JOSHUA 

(Reading silently.) 
It says Abraham rose early in the morning to start on his 
journey to the Land of Moriah. 

AARON 

Why do you suppose Abraham rose early? 

JOSHUA 

He probably wanted to sneak away before Sarah woke up, so 
she wouldn't find out what he was up to. 

AARON 

Or maybe he was just eager to obey God's command without 
delay. 

JOSHUA 

So what happened when they finally got to the Land of 
Moriah? 

AARON 

God showed Mount Moriah to Abraham, and Abraham and 
Isaac climbed it. Do you know where Mount Moriah is? 

JOSHUA 

In Israel. 



162 



LOOKING BACK.: Four Flays 

AARON 

But where in Israel? 

JOSHUA 

I forget. 

AARON 

Mount Moriah is what is known as the "Temple Mount." It's 
where King Solomon's Temple once stood and where the 
Western Wall still stands, in Jerusalem. 

JOSHUA 

But did Abraham tell Isaac that he was planning to kill him? 

AARON 

Read chapter 22, verse 7, to yourself and tell me what it says. 

JOSHUA reads to himself, as does AARON. 
ABRAHAM and ISAAC walk side by side silently. 

ISAAC 

My Father! 

ABRAHAM 

Here I am, Isaac. 

ISAAC 

Father, I can see the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb 
for a burnt offering? 

ABRAHAM 

God will Himself provide the lamb for a burnt offering, my 
son. 



163 



GOOD OLD ABRAHAM 

ABRAHAM and ISAAC continue walking side by side silently, 
until they reach downstage. They proceed to build an altar, 
using the large rock downstage as a base and placing some 
smaller rocks, which they find scattered about, on top of it. 
They place the branches that ISAAC has been carrying on the 
altar. 

JOSHUA 

Abraham didn't tell Isaac that he was planning to kill him. 

AARON 

Why do you suppose he didn't? 

JOSHUA 

Abraham probably didn't want to scare Isaac and have him 
run away. 

AARON 

Of course! Because if Isaac ran away, Abraham couldn't obey 
God's command. 

JOSHUA 

So what happened next? 

AARON 

Please read verse 9 aloud. 

JOSHUA 

"And they came to the place which God had told him of; 
and Abraham built the altar there, and laid the wood in 
order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar 
upon the wood." Oh man! What kind of a father would bind 
his son and place him on an altar so he could sacrifice him? 
Do you want to know what I think? 



164 



LOOKING BACK: Four Plays 

AARON 



What? 



JOSHUA 

I think Abraham was a sadist. 

AARON 

Joshua! Watch what comes out of your mouth! 

JOSHUA 

If it wasn't sadistic of Abraham to do what he did, it was 
certainly immoral for him to bind his son and place him on 
an altar so he could sacrifice him. Don't you agree? 

AARON 

Yes. 

JOSHUA 

And I'll bet Abraham himself knew that what he was doing 
was immoral. 

AARON 

Yes, but by this point Abraham had so much faith in God that 
he was ready to obey God's every command, even one that 
might not coincide with Abraham's own standard of right and 
wrong. 

JOSHUA 

But isn't killing supposed to be against the Ten 
Commandments? 

AARON 

The Ten Commandments were not given to Moses until 
hundreds of years later. 



165 



GOOD OLD ABRAHAM 

JOSHUA 

Oh jeez, Dad, this stuff makes me sick. Can I go get a cold 
drink? 

AARON 

Sure, but hurry back. We have a lot of work to do. 

JOSHUA gets up and runs out at stage right. AARON goes to 
the bookcase and consults some of the books. After a while he 
looks at his watch and sits down in his previous seat. 

AARON 

Joshua! 

JOSHUA comes in from stage right and sits down. 

JOSHUA 

Sorry, Dad! 

Downstage, ABRAHAM pulls strings out of his pocket and 
binds ISAAC'S hands and legs. ISAAC does not resist. After 
binding him, ABRAHAM lays ISAAC on the altar, face up. 

AARON 

Now where were we? Oh, yes. Genesis, chapter 22. 

JOSHUA 

If I were Isaac, I would have punched and kicked Abraham 
and run away. 

AARON 

According to the story, Isaac was quite submissive. As a matter 
of fact, in the Jewish tradition, Isaac is praised for his submissive 
attitude, because it shows that indirectly he was obeying God's 
command, too, or at least helping Abraham obey it. 



166 



LOOKING BACK: Four Plays 

JOSHUA 

So the victim is praised for submitting to his victimizer! 
Maybe Isaac was submissive because he was scared out of his 
wits. I know I would be. 

ABRAHAM reaches in his pocket for his knife, then holds the 
knife above Isaac as if to strike him. 

VOICE O.S. 

Abraham! Abraham! 

ABRAHAM 

Here I am. 

VOICE O.S. 

Do not lay a hand on the lad! 

ABRAHAM 

What did You say? 

VOICE O.S. 

Do not do anything to your son! 

ABRAHAM freezes, then takes a deep breath. He uses his 
knife to untie ISAAC and puts the knife back in his pocket. 
ISAAC gets up from the altar and, seemingly dazed, walks 
away and exits upstage. ABRAHAM spots a small ram caught 
in the nearby bush, catches it, then binds it and places it on 
the altar. 

ABRAHAM 

O God! Thank You for sparing my son's life! But there is 
something I cannot understand: After first telling me to make 
a burnt offering of Isaac, why did You then relent? 



167 



GOOD OLD ABRAHAM 

VOICE O.S. 

Now I know that you are truly a God-fearing man. You did 
not withhold your son, your only son, from me. 

ABRAHAM sighs, then looks all around. 

ABRAHAM 

Isaac! Where are you? 

ABRAHAM continues looking around, then walks alone 
slowly in the direction from which he came, upstage. He 
reaches the tent, enters it and exits at stage left. 

AARON 

So did Abraham end up sacrificing Isaac? Read verse 12 to 
yourself. What does it say? 

JOSHUA 

(Reading to himself.) 
It says that at the last moment God told Abraham not to do it. 

AARON 

Right. And do you know what this whole story about the 
sacrifice of Isaac is called? 

JOSHUA 

What? 

AARON 

It's called "The Binding of Isaac." In Hebrew it's known as 
"The Akedah." Can you say that? 

JOSHUA 

The Akedah. 



168 



LOOKING BACK: Four Flays 

AARON 

Right. So why do you suppose God asked Abraham to offer 
Isaac as a sacrifice in the first place? 



Beats me. 



Think, Joshua! Think! 



JOSHUA 



AARON 



JOSHUA 

I'm thinking but I still can't figure it out. 

AARON 

God wanted to test Abraham. 

JOSHUA 

What for? 

AARON 

He wanted to see how strong Abraham's faith in God was. 
If Abraham was willing to sacrifice his only remaining son, 
who was probably the most precious person in the whole 
wide world to him at this point, then God could be sure that 
Abraham had real faith. 

JOSHUA 

But Dad, it would make more sense to say that it was the 
other way around, that it was actually Abraham who was 
testing God to see how moral God really was, sort of like 
Abraham was playing a game of chicken with God, waiting 
for God to stop him. Because why would God have to test 
Abraham to find out how much faith Abraham had in Him? 
Isn't God supposed to be all-knowing, so He would certainly 
know if Abraham had faith in Him or not? 



169 



GOOD OLD ABRAHAM 

AARON 

Good question. Actually, some scholars think that God just 
wanted to make an example of Abraham for others, because 
God knew Abraham would obey Him. 

JOSHUA 

What kind of an example would that be? A father sacrificing 
his own son?! 

AARON 

An example of absolute faith and of absolute obedience to 
God. Actually, since Abraham, whole generations have taken 
their inspiration from the Akedah. 

JOSHUA 

How so? 

AARON 

Think about all the wars mankind has engaged in during the 
past four thousand years, where fathers - and mothers - have 
sacrificed their kids. Many have related their experience to 
Abraham's. 

JOSHUA 

Although Abraham ended up not sacrificing Isaac, while 
fathers and mothers do sacrifice their kids in war, right? 

AARON 

That's true. Keen observation. 

JOSHUA 

But didn't you tell me that idol worshipping was frowned 
upon in the Bible because the idols demanded child sacrifice? 



170 



LOOKING BACK: Four Plays 

AARON 

Yes, child sacrifice was quite prevalent in Abraham's time. 
Actually, according to some scholars, the fact that God in the 
end told Abraham not to sacrifice Isaac shows that God didn't 
approve of child sacrifice. 

JOSHUA 

But if God didn't approve of child sacrifice, how come He 
told Abraham to sacrifice Isaac in the first place? Do you 
think maybe He was testing Abraham to see how moral 
Abraham was? 

AARON 

The main thing is that in the end, God told Abraham not to 
do it. 

JOSHUA 

I know that's what the Bible says, but I have a different 
theory about what really happened. 

AARON 

Why, what do you think happened? 

JOSHUA 

I think God truly wanted Abraham to sacrifice Isaac to Him. 
That's why He told Abraham to take Isaac up the mountain 
and offer him there as a burnt offering. And I think actually 
God never changed His mind. 

AARON 

What do you mean? 

JOSHUA 

Look, Dad, if God could cause a great flood that drowned 
almost everyone on earth, and if He could bring towers 



171 



GOOD OLD ABRAHAM 

crashing down on people, and if He could destroy whole 
cities, and if He could tell a father to send one of his two sons 
away, then God's justice is not above requiring that a father 
sacrifice his only remaining son. 

AARON 

If that's the case, how did it happen that Abraham didn't 
sacrifice Isaac in the end? 

JOSHUA 

Maybe Abraham just refused to. 

AARON 

Refused? How can you say that? Don't you remember how 
Abraham arose early, and promptly left on a long journey 
to the Land of Moriah, and walked up Mount Moriah, and 
built an altar, and bound Isaac, and placed him on the altar, 
and held a knife in his hand, and raised his hand ready to 
strike Isaac? All this time, Abraham didn't show the slightest 
inkling of hesitation. So if Abraham didn't sacrifice Isaac, 
why didn't he, except that God intervened and stopped him? 

JOSHUA 

Maybe at the last moment, Abraham just changed his mind. 
Maybe during all the time it took him to get to Mount 
Moriah, he thought it over in his mind and debated with 
himself back and forth, and finally, when Isaac was lying 
there all bound on the altar, terrified, and Abraham looked 
into his son's eyes, which were looking back at him, Abraham 
decided the heck with God, I'm just not going to do it. 

AARON 

But Abraham was a man of faith. He had full faith in God. 



172 



LOOKING BACK: Four Plays 

JOSHUA 

Wait a minute, Dad. I have an idea. 

AARON 

What is it, Josh? 

JOSHUA 

I want to get something and show you. 

AARON 

What is it you want to get? 

JOSHUA 

(Getting up.) 
It'll just take a minute. I'll be right back. 

AARON 

Okay. But hurry up. We want to continue our discussion. 

JOSHUA exits at stage right, and AARON turns to his book 
and reads to himself. A moment later, JOSHUA returns, 
holding a sharp kitchen knife in his hand. 

AARON 

(Gets up when he sees JOSHUA holding a knife.) 
What's this all about? What do you need a knife for? Be 
careful not to cut yourself! 

JOSHUA 

I just want to show you something. 

JOSHUA hands the knife to AARON. 

AARON 

What do I need a knife for? 



173 



GOOD OLD ABRAHAM 

JOSHUA 

I just want to show you something. Here. Take the knife. 

AARON 

(Reluctantly taking the knife from JOSHUA.) 
Now what do I do with the knife? 

JOSHUA 

Just hold it up, like you want to strike me with it, just as 
Abraham was holding it at the Akedah. 

AARON 

Joshua! What nonsense is this? 

JOSHUA 

I want you to hold the knife up like you want to strike me and 
at the same time look into my eyes. 

AARON 

Joshua! 

JOSHUA 

For just a moment. Please, Dad. 

AARON 

(Reluctantly holding up the knife as if to strike JOSHUA.) 
Okay. But I wish I understood what this is all about. 

JOSHUA 

Just look into my eyes, Dad. What do you see? 

AARON 

I see my son's eyes, what else? 



174 



LOOKING BACK: Four Plays 

JOSHUA 

And I see my father's eyes. And I see him ready to strike me. 
And I am terrified, like Isaac must have been, lying there all 
bound on the altar. Can you see the terror in my eyes, Dad? 

AARON 

I guess so. You may be a great actor, Josh, but I must admit 
that I do see terror in your eyes. 

JOSHUA 

So, looking into my eyes, could you strike me, Dad, even if 
you wanted to before? 

AARON 

Of course I couldn't. 

JOSHUA 

And if someone told you to do it, even God, could you do it 
after looking into my eyes? Could any father do it? Do you 
think Abraham could do it? That's why I think he refused. He 
looked into Isaac's eyes and just couldn't do it. 

AARON 

I see. Now let me get rid of this knife. I'll take it back into the 
kitchen. 

AARON exits at stage right carrying the knife, then reenters 
without the knife, and resumes his seat. 

JOSHUA 

(Sitting down.) 
Maybe it took God's demand that he sacrifice Isaac to make 
Abraham decide to disobey God. Maybe Abraham had full 
faith in God until he realized what God was really like. Do 
you want me to tell you what Abraham realized? 



175 



GOOD OLD ABRAHAM 

AARON 

What did Abraham realize? 



That God is a sadist. 



Joshua! Please! 



JOSHUA 



AARON 



JOSHUA 

Okay. But you must admit that actually God ordered 
Abraham to do something immoral when He told him to 
sacrifice Isaac. Because for Abraham to kill his son would 
certainly be immoral. 

AARON 

I agree. It would have been immoral for Abraham to kill Isaac. 
But in the end he didn't do it, and the question is, "Why?" 

JOSHUA 

Look Dad. Abraham had a choice. He could either obey 
God and act against his own sense of right and wrong. Or 
Abraham could disobey God and do what his own moral 
sense dictated. If you were faced with this kind of dilemma, 
with having to choose between obedience to God on the 
one hand and acting morally on the other, what would you 
choose? 

AARON 

You're right about the dilemma facing Abraham. And I'd 
probably choose to act in accordance with my own sense 
of justice. But that doesn't change the fact that according 
to Genesis, chapter 22, Abraham chose to obey God and 
sacrifice Isaac. 



176 



LOOKING BACK: Four Flays 

JOSHUA 

Let's assume you're right. Maybe Abraham didn't refuse to 
sacrifice Isaac. Maybe Abraham was really going to do it and 
obey God completely, without hesitation. But still, maybe 
there's another explanation for why Abraham ended up not 
doing it. 

AARON 

What explanation might there be other than what the Bible 
tells us, namely, that in the end God told Abraham not to 
sacrifice Isaac? 

SARAH enters the tent from stage left, walks quickly through 
the tent, then emerges and paces frantically around the stage, 
looking this way and that. 

SARAH 

Isaac! Isaac! Where are you, my son? 

SARAH cups her ear, listening for a response, looking 
all around her. Suddenly, she seems to spot something 
downstage in the distance, and begins running downstage. 
She is out of breath and has to sit down on the ground 
and rest. This occurs several times. Each time she gets up 
and, with great effort, continues running downstage. When 
she reaches her destination, she hides behind the bush 
downstage, and observes an imaginary scene of ABRAHAM 
preparing to sacrifice ISAAC, a scene which is now past and 
invisible to the audience. 

As the VOICE O.S. is heard next, SARAH'S lips move as if 
she is the one speaking. 



177 



GOOD OLD ABRAHAM 

VOICE O.S. 

Abraham! Abraham! (Pause.) Do not lay a hand on the lad! 
(Pause.) Do not do anything to your son! (Pause.) Now I 
know that you are truly a God-fearing man. You did not 
withhold your son, your only son, from Me. 

SARAH rises and heads rapidly back, stumbling as she runs. 
Out of breath, she reaches the tent. Before entering the tent, 
she stops and looks up at the sky. 

SARAH 

Oh, God of Abraham! How could you allow such an 
abomination? I was an old, barren woman, with no hope of 
bearing a child. Without Your help, my son Isaac would not 
have been born. But then, after giving me a son, suddenly, 
You want to take my son away! Oh, God of Abraham! How 
cruel can You be? Do You not know that it is better for a 
woman not to have born a son than to have a son and lose 
him? You may be Abraham's God, but from now on You are 
my God no more! 

SARAH runs into the tent and exits at stage left. 

JOSHUA 

I think Sarah woke up and when she couldn't find Isaac, she 
looked around and spotted Abraham and Isaac walking away 
toward Mount Moriah. She followed them quietly just so she 
could see what they were up to, and when she reached the 
mountaintop and saw Isaac bound on the altar and Abraham's 
knife raised to strike him, she pretended she was God and 
stopped Abraham. 



178 



LOOKING BACK: Four Flays 

AARON 

So according to your theory, the reason Abraham ended up 
not sacrificing Isaac is not because God stopped him but 
because Abraham mistakenly thought God stopped him? 

JOSHUA 

Right. Since Sarah imitated God's voice, Abraham thought it 
was actually God ordering him to stop. 

AARON 

That's an interesting theory. Actually, some scholars have 
commented on the strangeness of Sarah's silence. In the 
whole Akedah story, the Bible doesn't mention Sarah even 
once. But according to your theory, Sarah wasn't silent at 
all. On the contrary, according to you, from the moment she 
discovered that Abraham was planning to sacrifice Isaac, she 
took the strongest measure she could to prevent Abraham 
from doing it. She knew how obedient Abraham was to God, 
so she used God's voice to stop Abraham. How clever! 

JOSHUA 

But I have another theory, too. Maybe Abraham decided to 
sacrifice Isaac because he was mad at Sarah for asking him 
to send Ishmael away. Maybe it was tit for tat. So maybe 
it wasn't God that told Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. Maybe 
it was all Abraham's idea in the first place because he just 
wanted to get back at Sarah for what she did to Ishmael. And 
then Sarah followed Abraham up the mountain and pretended 
she was God and stopped him. 

AARON 

You have some interesting theories, Josh. Looks like 
you're really into the story of Abraham. I'm glad to see it, 
considering how reluctant you were to study the Bible when 
we first started. Now, speaking of theories, some scholars 



179 



GOOD OLD ABRAHAM 

think that Abraham was willing to sacrifice Isaac because 
he knew ahead of time that God would stop him, or, if God 
didn't top him and Isaac was actually sacrificed, that God 
would resurrect Isaac. What do you think of that theory? 

JOSHUA 

If Abraham knew ahead of time that God would spare Isaac, 
how does the Akedah demonstrate Abraham's devotion to 
God? It means Abraham was just going through the motions, 
and that's no big deal. 

AARON 

I agree. Now, do you have a favorite theory among the 
theories you yourself enunciated? 

JOSHUA 

I think my favorite is the one about Sarah following Abraham 
and Isaac and pretending like she was God. 

AARON 

Actually, there may be some merit to this theory. Because in 
the very next chapter of Genesis, chapter 23, it tells us that 
Sarah died. The juxtaposition of the story of Isaac's binding 
and Sarah's death may not be coincidental. 

JOSHUA 

I think Sarah died not only because she was disappointed 
in Abraham for being willing to kill their son but because 
the incident made her lose her faith in God. I think in the 
beginning she didn't believe in God at all, but she went along 
with Abraham and let him believe what he wanted to because 
she loved her husband. And then, when she got pregnant and 
had Isaac, she became a believer. But now, when she realized 
that Abraham was willing to sacrifice Isaac to God, she lost 
all faith, because she knew Abraham wouldn't be willing to 



180 



LOOKING BACK: Four Plays 

sacrifice Isaac without God's approval. It was a big shock to 
her to realize that a God she believed in betrayed her. 

AARON 

And Abraham? Do you think that after the binding of Isaac 
and after Sarah's death, he stopped believing in God, too? 

JOSHUA 

I wouldn't blame him if he did. God really mistreated him. 

AARON 

Joshua! 

JOSHUA 

Okay. God tested him. First Abraham was told to give up 
Ishmael. Then he was told to give up Isaac. 

AARON 

You're right. God tested Abraham time and time again. But 
Abraham stood the tests. That's why Abraham has been 
revered for thousands of years. 

JOSHUA 

But what about the way Abraham treated his own kids? Did 
Isaac ever forgive Abraham for being willing to kill him? 

AARON 

If you read carefully the account of Abraham's descent 
from Mount Moriah after the Akedah, the story doesn't say 
that Abraham and Isaac went back together, the way it told 
us previously that they walked together when they were 
climbing Mount Moriah. The implication is that Abraham 
went back without Isaac. Maybe Isaac just ran away for a 
while. 



181 



GOOD OLD ABRAHAM 

JOSHUA 

I would have run away, too, but never come back. Isaac 
should have run away for good. 

AARON 

It probably took quite a while before Isaac felt close to his 
father again. 

JOSHUA 

Poor Isaac. What he must have felt, lying there bound on the 
altar and seeing his father wielding a knife, ready to kill him! 

AARON 

It must have been very frightening, I agree. 

JOSHUA 

It would have been bad enough if it was a stranger Isaac saw 
threatening to kill him. But it was his own father! 

AARON 

You're right, Josh. That experience must have been quite 
traumatic for Isaac. Isaac didn't have it easy. The Bible tells 
us that in later life he became blind. 

JOSHUA 

Maybe it was a delayed reaction to seeing his own father 
threatening to kill him, seeing it with his own eyes! But what 
I really want to know is whether God was ever sorry for 
making Abraham mistreat his kids. Remember when we were 
talking about the Great Flood, and God recognized that He 
made a mistake and promised never to bring about another 
great flood again? Well, did God ever feel sorry for what He 
made Abraham do to Ishmael and Isaac? Actually, God was 
responsible for Abraham's child abuse. 



182 



LOOKING BACK : Four Plays 

AARON 



Joshua! 



JOSHUA 

I'll bet if Abraham was living today and if he did what he did 
to his kids, kicking one kid out and threatening to kill the 
other kid, that Social Services would be there in a second. 

AARON 

Probably. 

JOSHUA 

Well, does the Bible tell us God was sorry? 

AARON 

No, the Bible doesn't tell us that God regretted what he told 
Abraham to do. 

JOSHUA 

Maybe God doesn't admit His mistakes after all. 

AARON 

Except that, come to think of it, the prohibition of murder 
in the Ten Commandments may have been God's way of 
admitting he made a mistake at the Akedah. 

JOSHUA 

Does that mean God learned from His mistake? 

AARON 

Probably. 

JOSHUA 

Because didn't you tell me that it's important to first admit 
one's mistakes and then learn from them? 



183 



GOOD OLD ABRAHAM 

AARON 

You're right, Josh. You have to at least admit your mistakes to 
yourself. 

JOSHUA 

(Pause.) 
Dad, I want to know something. What if God told you to kill 
me, like God told Abraham to kill Isaac. Would you do it? 

AARON 

I already told you, God has never spoken to me. 

JOSHUA 

But what if He did? 

AARON 

I wouldn't do it. 

JOSHUA 

Don't you think if you took steps to kill me you'd be arrested? 

AARON 

Probably. 

JOSHUA 

And then, when you were brought to trial, don't you think if 
your defense was that you heard the voice of God telling you 
to kill your son, that your lawyer would argue that you were 
just out of your mind, that you were insane? 

AARON 

Probably. 

JOSHUA 

Because normal people don't hear voices. 



184 



LOOKING BACK: Four Plays 

AARON 

You're probably right. 

JOSHUA 

So maybe Abraham was simply insane? 

AARON 

Joshua! Watch your words! 

JOSHUA 

But, Dad, what was so great about Abraham, if he heard 
voices that made him abuse his own kids? Why is he so 
highly regarded? 

AARON 

I told you. He did what he did in obedience to God. 

JOSHUA 

Or so he thought. Maybe those voices were just in his head. 

AARON 

Abraham was a man of absolute faith. That's what he is 
admired for, not only in the Jewish tradition but also by 
Christianity and Islam. 

JOSHUA 

I'm glad I'm not Abraham's son. There's no telling what God 
might ask him to do to me if I was his son. 

AARON 

(Pats JOSHUA lovingly on the head.) 
I, too, am glad you're not Abraham's son, Josh, but rather my 
son. Now, let's continue. Do you know what Abraham did 
after Sarah died? 



185 




GOOD OLD ABRAHAM 

JOSHUA 



What? 



AARON 

He bought a burial place for her in Hebron, and it can still be 
visited. It's considered a holy site. 

JOSHUA 

And what happened to Abraham after that? Did he die, too? 
He certainly deserved to. 

AARON 

Joshua! No, actually he married again. 

JOSHUA 

No kidding! 

AARON 

He married a woman called "Keturah." 

JOSHUA 

Maybe "Keturah" was really Hagar? I think Abraham always 
fancied Hagar. 

AARON 

It's possible. 

JOSHUA 

Did Abraham and Keturah have any kids? 

AARON 

Yes, several. 



LOOKING BACK: Four Plays 

JOSHUA 

I hope Abraham didn't abuse them the way he abused 
Ishmael and Isaac. 

AARON 

The Bible doesn't tell us much about Keturah's children. 

JOSHUA 

But how about Isaac and Ishmael? Did they ever get together? 
After all, they were brothers. I wish I had a brother. 

AARON 

I know you do. Yes, they got together. Please read Genesis 25, 
verses 8-9, to me. 

JOSHUA searches in his book, leafing back and forth. 
AARON helps him find the right page and points to the spot. 

JOSHUA 

"And Abraham expired, and died in a good old age, an old 
man, and full of years, and was gathered to his people. And 
Isaac and Ishmael his sons buried him..." 

AARON 

Stop and read the rest of the verse and the following one to 
yourself and tell me where Abraham was buried. 

JOSHUA 

(Reading to himself.) 
Near Sarah, in Hebron. 

AARON 

Excellent! 



GOOD OLD ABRAHAM 

JOSHUA 

I hope Abraham and Sarah got along better after they died 
than they did before. You know what I really think? I think 
those two deserved each other. 

AARON 

Joshua! Please! 

ISAAC and ISHMAEL enter the tent from stage left and walk 
slowly and solemnly through the tent, carrying together a 
long, heavy sack on their right shoulders, with ISAAC leading 
and ISHMAEL following a few feet behind. They have a 
somber expression on their faces. They emerge from the tent, 
then turn upstage. 

ISAAC 

(Trying to look over his free shoulder at ISHMAEL.) 
It is good to see you again, Ishmael! 

ISHMAEL 

It is good to see you, too, Isaac! 

ISAAC 

I missed you all these years. 

ISHMAEL 

And I missed you. 

ISAAC 

Maybe now that they are both gone, we can get together. 

ISHMAEL 

Nothing would please me more. 



188 



LOOKING BACK: Four Hays 

ISAAC 

We have a lot of catching up to do. 

ISHMAEL 

We certainly do. 

ISAAC 

(Pause.) 
It will be difficult to make up for all those lost years. 

ISHMAEL 

True. We lost too much for that. 

ISAAC 

(Pause.) 
Our father was a complex man. 

ISHMAEL 

He was a man of faith. 

ISAAC 

A man of faith, for good or ill. And the two of us paid the 
price. 

ISHMAEL 

Amen! 

ISAAC and ISHMAEL keep walking slowly and solemnly 
upstage, carrying the sack, then exit. 

JOSHUA 

So Dad, do you remember that when we first started studying 
the Bible together, you said that we don't study Bible stories 
for entertainment? You said these stories teach us something, 
that they teach us how we should behave. So what does the 



189 



GOOD OLD ABRAHAM 

story of Abraham teach us about how we should behave? I 
can't figure it out. 

AARON 

(Pause.) 
That's a good question, Josh. I'll have to think about it. I 
thought I knew the answer, but after studying the story of 
Abraham with you, I'm not sure any more. Let's both think 
about it, and we can discuss it next time. How's that? 



CURTAIN 



190 



MICHAL 



A short play in three acts 



191 



CHARACTERS 

MICHAL A princess. 

SAUL MICHAL'S father, a king. 

DAVID MICHAL' S husband, future/present king. 

PALTI MICHAL S second husband. 

JONATHAN MICHAL'S brother. 

SAMUEL A prophet. 

WITCH The Witch of Endor. 



193 



MICHAL 

TIME AND PLACE 

The action takes place in ancient Israel, in the time of King 
Saul, the first king of Israel, who reigned about 3000 years 
ago. The play was inspired by the story told in two books of 
the Old Testament, Samuel I and Samuel II. 



194 



LOOKING BACK: Four Plays 

ACT ONE 

The stage is dimly lit, suggesting nighttime. The ground is 
bare except for a large rock at upstage center. SAUL, dressed 
in a long, dark cloak and having much of his face obscured 
by a hood, enters from stage left. He hesitates, looks in all 
directions, then walks quickly across the stage toward stage 
right, where a transparent curtain-wall hangs diagonally. 
The curtain-wall has a slit in it, which serves as a doorway. 
The triangular area behind the curtain-wall, a cave -like 
space, is illuminated with a flickering light, suggesting fire. 
An old woman, the WITCH, can be seen through the curtain- 
wall. She is dressed in rags and is seated on a stool in the 
interior of the cave. She is using a long stick to stir something 
and is chanting. 

Throughout this ACT, whenever MICHAL speaks, she is 
addressing the audience. 

SAUL 

(Whispering audibly through the curtain-wall) 
Let me in! 

WITCH 

(Startled, stops chanting, gets up, approaches the curtain- 
wall and looks out through it.) 
Who's - - there? 

SAUL 

Let me in! Hurry up! 

WITCH 

Who are you - - that you dare - - disturb a woman - - this 
time of night? 



195 



MICHAL 

SAUL 



Let me in, I tell you! 



WITCH 

(Holding up her stick in a menacing posture.) 
Who - - are you - - to speak to me - - this way? 

SAUL 

Don't ask questions. Just open the door! 

WITCH 

I won't - - let a stranger in. 

SAUL 

Let me in, I command you! Let me in or I'll break in! 

WITCH 

(Retreating) 
Who are you - - to threaten me? - - Don't you know - - I'm an 
old woman? 

SAUL 

Let me in, old woman! 

MICHAL enters from stage left. She walks toward upstage 
where, hiding behind the rock, she observes SAUL and the 
WITCH 

MICHAL 

My poor father! Up in the middle of the night, unable to 
sleep! But what is he doing here? 



196 



LOOKING BACK: Four Plays 

SAUL 

(Pulls a shiny coin out of his cloak pocket and holds it up for 

the WITCH to see.) 
Are you not for hire? 

MICHAL 

A euphemism! Poor man! Seeking the comforts of a woman 
while my dear mother's on her sickbed. And he has a 
concubine, too! What will his stricken mind think of next? 

WITCH 

(Notices the coin and smiles.) 
Well - - 

SAUL 

Speak up, woman! Are you not a witch? 

MICHAL 

This is getting worse by the minute. Poor Father! Why would 
he suddenly seek the services of a witch? He must be at his 
wits' end! 

WITCH 

I was. 

SAUL 

And now? 

WITCH 

Witchcraft - - is dead. 

SAUL 

Dead? No, I will not have it! 



197 



MICHAL 

WITCH 

Haven't you heard - - about King Saul's edict? 

SAUL 

What of it? 

WITCH 

By the prophet's command - - King Saul - - killed all the 
witches - - in the land. 

SAUL 

All but one. The Witch of Endor. 

WITCH 

True - - 1 alone remain - - by the will of God. 

SAUL 

By the king's mercy! 

WITCH 

Out of fear - - 1 gave up - - my craft. 

SAUL 

But why, if the king spared you? 

WITCH 

How could I - - be sure - - whether I lived by accident - - or 
by design? 

SAUL 

(Removing his hood.) 
It was not by accident, I assure you! This king is in 
command. He knows what he's doing. 



198 



LOOKING BACK: Four Plays 

MICHAL 

My God! Now he reveals himself! What will God think? And 
the people? He is their king! And now he suddenly resorts to 
witchcraft! 

WITCH 

(Dropping her stick and staring at SAUL.) 
King Saul?! 

SAUL 

The very one. 

WITCH 

Why did you not - - announce yourself? 

SAUL 

I knew you would succumb. 

WITCH 

You - - frightened me. 

SAUL 

Let me in. It's getting late. 

WITCH 

Please don't - - hurt me. 

SAUL 

I spared your life before, didn't I? 

WITCH 

(Hesitantly opening the curtain-wall door and letting SAUL in.) 
Welcome - - my King! 



199 



MICHAL 

SAUL 

(Stepping in and handing the WITCH his coin.) 
Here. Take it. Hurry up! 

MICHAL rises from her hiding place behind the rock. She 
walks quietly toward the WITCH'S curtain-wall, where she 
stops, looks inside and listens. 

WITCH 

(Slipping the coin into her pocket.) 
Thank you, your Majesty, - - your generosity - - is legendary 
- - Please sit down. 

The WITCH picks up the stool and brings it to SAUL. 

SAUL 

(Seating himself on the stool.) 
Get to work now. I need you to conjure up someone. 

WITCH 

Who is it - - you wish to - - conjure up - - your Majesty? 

SAUL 

The old prophet, Samuel. 

WITCH 

No! Not Samuel! - - 1 fear him. 

SAUL 

(Taking another coin out of his pocket.) 
He won't harm you, I promise. 

WITCH 

(Taking the coin and slipping it into her pocket.) 
But it was he who ordered - - all the witches killed! 



200 



LOOKING BACK: Four Plays 

SAUL 

He's dead now. He can no longer order anything. 

WITCH 

So why - - conjure him up - - your Majesty? 

SAUL 

Though dead, perhaps he can still see the future. God may 
still speak to him, as He did before. 

MICHAL 

I wonder if God ever did. I suspect Samuel simply made 
things up to keep control. 

WITCH 

Why wouldn't you - - speak directly - - to God - - your 
Majesty? 

SAUL 

I can't. 

WITCH 

Why not? - - It's well known - - throughout the land - - that it 
was God - - who chose you to be king! 

SAUL 

God will no longer speak to me. He's angry at me for my 
sins. 

MICHAL 

That's what Samuel told him, poor man. The prophet was 
jealous of my father from the start. 

WITCH 

But God chose you - - to be our first king - - your Majesty! 



201 



MICHAL 

SAUL 

True. And for a while God's spirit was upon me. But then. . . 

MICHAL 

And then, as my father won his battles against our enemies 
and became more popular, the prophet's jealousy mounted. 

WITCH 

What happened - - then? 

SAUL 

Suddenly, God's spirit left me. I never heard from God again. 
I had to go through Samuel to know what God desired of me. 

MICHAL 

Or so the prophet convinced my poor father. I've always had 
my doubts about that old geezer, Samuel. 

WITCH 

Maybe God - - will hear you now - - your Majesty. 

SAUL 

(Suddenly getting angry.) 
Enough of this! Now conjure Samuel up! 

WITCH 

I'm - - out of practice. 

SAUL 

Do it, I say. The enemy will be attacking in the morning, and 
I need to know what God wants me to do. 

WITCH 

Ask God - - directly! 



202 



LOOKING BACK.: Four Flays 

SAUL 

(Rising and menacing.) 
Listen, you witch! I'm not here to argue with the likes of you. 
Conjure up the prophet or else! 

The WITCH hesitates, then begins making motions with her 
arms and chanting. Strange, thunderous sounds are heard. 
An old man, SAMUEL, enters the cave slowly from the 
interior of the cave at upstage right. He is dressed in a long 
robe and has a somber expression on his face. Upon seeing 
him, the WITCH covers her face with her hands. 



It is - - he! 



What is he like? 



WITCH 



SAUL 



WITCH 



A - - Godlike - - figure. 

SAUL 

What does he look like? 

WITCH 

(Uncovers her face.) 
An old man - - wearing a robe. 

SAUL 

(Falls to the ground and bows his head.) 
Samuel, prophet of God! You have come! 

WITCH 

(Retreating from SAMUEL.) 
Please don't strike me down - - the king made me do it. 



203 



MICHAL 

SAMUEL 

(To SAUL.) 

Why have you disturbed me? 

SAUL 

(Rising.) 
The enemy is about to attack and God has departed from me. 

SAMUEL 

You sinned against Him. 

SAUL 

I'm sorry if I did. I did my best. 

SAMUEL 

You sacrificed to Him when you were told to wait. 

SAUL 

A battle was brewing. I sacrificed to ensure the people's 
victory. 

SAMUEL 

You spared the lives of enemies when you were told to smite 
them. 

SAUL 

I listened to the people's voice. 

SAMUEL 

In sparing the enemy you contravened God's justice. 

SAUL 

I followed my conscience, man's guide to right and wrong. 



204 



LOOKING BACK: Four Plays 

SAMUEL 

I had to strike the enemy king myself to satisfy God. 

MICHAL 

What a bloodthirsty view of God this prophet has! I'm proud 
of Father for his compassion. 

SAUL 

I remember that gory scene quite well. You dismembered that 
king! 

SAMUEL 

It's not for man to decide what is and is not just. 

SAUL 

Then why did God plant in us a sense of justice? 

SAMUEL 

To be ignored when God has spoken. Man must obey the 
higher law. 

SAUL 

I'm sorry if I sinned. I love God with all my heart. 

SAMUEL 

The only way to show God your love is through strict 
obedience. 

SAUL 

Henceforth I will follow His justice even if it contradicts my 
conscience. 

SAMUEL 

Too late. You've had your chance. Now God has torn the 
kingdom away from you and given it to another. 



205 



MICHAL 

SAMUEL bends down, reaches for a corner of SAULS cloak 
and rips it off He throws the torn piece into the interior of 
the cave as if it were apiece of trash. 

WITCH 

My God! 

MICHAL 

Samuel's audacity knows no bounds! 

SAMUEL 

What God expects is for man to obey His word. You, Saul, 
have failed. 

SAUL 

But how can I obey His word if He won't speak to me? 
Neither by prophets nor by dreams. That's why I called you. 
So you can tell me what I should do. 

SAMUEL 

It's too late, I tell you. There's nothing for you to do but 
accept God's will. 

SAUL 

And what is God's will now? 

SAMUEL 

That the enemy will prevail. 

SAUL 

No! 

SAMUEL 

And you and your sons shall die in battle tomorrow. 



206 



LOOKING BACK: Four Plays 

The WITCH covers her face and retreats. SAUL falls to the 
ground and sobs. SAMUEL turns around and slowly exits at 
stage right. MICHAL enters the cave through the slit in the 
curtain-wall and kneels next to SAUL, then helps him up and 
leads him out of the cave and across the stage toward stage 
left. 

SAUL 

(Leaning on MICHAL and sobbing.) 
Did you hear what Samuel said? My kingdom will be ripped 
from me. The enemy will prevail. And my sons will be killed. 
Is that God's justice? To kill the innocent because of my own 
sins? 

MICHAL 

Poor Father. I don't believe a word that Samuel says. Samuel 
is a bitter old man, jealous of the king because the people 
chose Saul to be king rather than Samuel. There is no way 
Samuel's prediction reflects God's will! 



CURTAIN 



207 



LOOKING BACK: Four Plays 

ACT TWO 

The next morning. A large room in King SAULS palace. The 
large rock from ACT ONE is still upstage, and serves as a 
seat. The upstage area is in darkness; only the downstage 
area is illuminated. JONATHAN, downstage, is dressed in 
battle gear, with a bow and arrows tucked into his belt. He 
is pacing back and forth. MICHAL enters from downstage 
right. 

JONATHAN 

(Surprised, greeting MICHAL with a warm hug) 
Michal! I thought it was Father. Why are you up so early? 

MICHAL 

Oh, Jonathan, I couldn't sleep at all. 

JONATHAN 

You need your rest, sis. You fret about Father all day. You 
have to take care of yourself. 

MICHAL 

You'll never believe what he did last night! 

JONATHAN 

I hope he got a good night's sleep before today's battle! 

MICHAL 

He was up and out. 

JONATHAN 

Out? 

MICHAL 

He went to Endor. 



209 



MICHAL 



JONATHAN 

Endor? What for? How do you know? 



I followed him there. 



And? 



MICHAL 



JONATHAN 



MICHAL 

I wanted to see what he was up to. I'm still trying to figure 
out what's happened to his mind. He's so different from the 
way he was. 

JONATHAN 

Yes, he used to be so calm, as if without a care, although, 
of course, as God's anointed king, the responsibility for our 
people's welfare rested on his shoulders. 

MICHAL 

His shoulders were broad enough to carry the heavy burden 
even though he never sought the crown. 

The downstage area, where MICHAL and JONATHAN are 
standing, is darkened, and the upstage area is illuminated. 
SAMUEL enters from upstage. A young SAUL, dressed in 
farm clothes, follows him a moment later, looking this way 
and that, then focusing his eyes on SAMUEL. 

SAUL 

Excuse me, sir. Do you know where I might find the prophet 
Samuel? 



210 



LOOKING BACK: Four Flays 

SAMUEL 

(Stopping and turning around to face SAUL.) 
I am the prophet Samuel. Did you not recognize me, boy? 

SAUL 

Sorry, sir. I don't live around here. I'm just a farm boy 
looking for his father's donkeys. 

SAMUEL 

What is your name, boy? 

SAUL 

It's "Saul," sir. 

SAMUEL 

Did you say you are looking for some donkeys? 

SAUL 

Yes, I'm looking for my father's donkeys. I've been doing it 
for days. By now my father must be more concerned about 
me than about his donkeys. 

SAMUEL 

I wouldn't be surprised. 

SAUL 

I'd like to find them, though, to make my father proud of me. 
Since you're a prophet, can you tell me where my father's 
donkeys are? 

SAMUEL 

Of course I can. God speaks to me directly. He gives me the 
power to see. And I can clearly see that your father's donkeys 
have been found and returned to him. 



211 



MICHAL 

There is a loud clamor coming from offstage, with shouts 
of 'We want a king!" heard repeatedly and with increasing 
volume. 

SAUL 

What's all that noise? 

SAMUEL 

(Looking up at the sky.) 
O God, they want a king! The people have rejected my house! 
After all my sons and I have done for them! 

SAMUEL sobs. 

SAUL 

Why do the people want a king? Why have they rejected you? 

SAMUEL 

The people think I am too old and my sons too corrupt to 
serve as judges over them. The people want a king so they 
can be like all the other nations. 

SAUL 

But we've never had a king. How can the people know it's 
wise to have one? 

SAMUEL 

That is exactly what I would like to know. Why do the people 
need a king? I will simply refuse to anoint one. 

SAUL 

Would such refusal be acceptable to God? 



212 



LOOKING BACK: Four Flays 

SAMUEL 

Since the power of anointing rests with me, I can just forbear 
from exercising it. 

SAUL 

What will God say about that? 

SAMUEL 

(Looking up at the sky.) 
Hush, boy! God is speaking to me. What is that, O God? 
What are You saying? It is You that they reject, not me, when 
they demand a king? I should anoint a king forthwith? And 
You have chosen someone to be king? 

SAUL 

Did God already choose a king? So fast? 

SAMUEL 

Yes, my boy, and it is you He chose. 

SAUL 

(Taking a step back in awe.) 
Me? Are you sure? There must be some mistake. Please ask 
God again! I'm not fit to be a king. I'm nothing but a farm 
boy from an unimportant family. All I've ever wished for is 
to walk in my father's and my grandfather's footsteps and be 
a farmer. 

The light upstage goes off and SAUL and SAMUEL exit 
in darkness. The downstage area is illuminated, revealing 
MICHAL and JONATHAN as before. 

JONATHAN 

First Samuel anointed Father. And later Father was also 
chosen king by lot. 



213 



MICHAL 

MICHAL 



Chosen by God Himself. 



JONATHAN 

And Father was so shy and modest. He hid on Grandfather's 
farm even though he was God's anointed. 

MICHAL 

But he rose to the occasion when our enemies attacked. He 
proved himself a leader, courageous and self confident. But 
last night. . . 

MICHAL breaks down and cries. JONATHAN hugs her, then 
helps wipe away her tears. 

JONATHAN 

What happened last night? 

MICHAL 

As I said, Father went to Endor. 

JONATHAN 

But why? 

MICHAL 

To see a witch. 

JONATHAN 

I thought Father had all the witches killed on Samuel's 
command. 

MICHAL 

It seems that Father spared this witch's life. 



214 



LOOKING BACK: Four Plays 

JONATHAN 

Why would he do that if God wanted all the witches dead? 

MICHAL 

Perhaps Father didn't believe that Samuel was speaking God's 
word. Maybe Father was again showing his compassion. 

JONATHAN 

Or maybe Father just wanted to leave himself an out, in case 
he needed to consult someone. 

MICHAL 

That's possible. It's really difficult to follow Father's thinking 
these days. At any rate, he had the Witch of Endor work her 
witchcraft to conjure up someone. 



Whom? 



Guess! 



Tell me! 



Samuel! 



The prophet Samuel? 



Yes. 



JONATHAN 



MICHAL 



JONATHAN 



MICHAL 



JONATHAN 



MICHAL 



215 



MICHAL 

JONATHAN 

Hard to believe that Father would want to see Samuel again. 
After all the pain the prophet caused him. 

MICHAL 

That's how I felt, knowing what Samuel told Father time and 
time again: that God had abandoned him because of Father's 
so-called sins. 

JONATHAN 

Sins born of Father's concern for our people. His love for 
others. His compassion. 

MICHAL 

I really think it was Samuel's accusations that started Father 
on his downward spiral. Father felt deserted by God and lost 
his self-assurance. 

JONATHAN 

So what did Samuel say this time? 

MICHAL 

The usual stuff. That because Father sinned, his kingdom 
would be torn away and given to another. As you know, I 
don't place much credence in what Samuel says. I think he 
makes things up. 

JONATHAN 

I agree. But unfortunately, it was Samuel's threat that the 
kingdom would be torn away from Father that made Father 
begin suspecting David of planning to replace him on the 
throne. 

MICHAL 

And David was so innocent! He had no such intent. 



216 



LOOKING BACK: Four Plays 

JONATHAN 

David's always been loyal to our family. He worshipped 
Father! Frankly, between you and me, I would be happy if 
David followed Father to the throne. I myself have no interest 
in being king. 

MICHAL 

I know. And before Samuel launched his threats, Father 
trusted David. 

JONATHAN 

Father showed his trust by giving you to David as his bride. 
And my dear friend David became my brother. You know, 
Michal, I liked David from the start. I still remember when he 
first came to the palace. 

MICHAL 

Luckily, someone recommended him as a musician who 
could lift Father's spirits. 

MICHAL and JONATHAN maintain their positions as 
the downstage area is darkened and the upstage area is 
illuminated to reveal SAUL sitting dejected on the rock 
upstage, with his crown on and holding a spear. DAVID is 
sitting at SAUL'S feet, holding a harp. 

DAVID 

What shall I sing for you today, King Saul? 

SAUL 

I trust you to come up with something good, David. You 
always do. 

DAVID 

I made up a new song. I thought it might ease your mind. 



217 



M1CHAL 

SAUL 

Sing it, David. Let me hear it. 

DAVID 

(Singing while playing his harp.) 

God, rebuke me not in Your anger, 
neither chasten me in Your wrath. 

Be gracious unto me, O God, for I languish away; 
heal me, O God, for my bones are affrighted. 
My soul also is sore affrighted; 
and You, O God, how long? 

SAUL 

Truer words were never spoken. You certainly understand 
how I feel, David. Please go on. 

DAVID 

(Continues singing and playing) 
Return, O God, deliver my soul; 
save me for Your mercy's sake. 
For in death there is no remembrance of You; 
in the nether-world who will give You thanks? 

1 am weary with my groaning; 
every night make I my bed to swim; 
I melt away my couch with my tears. 
Mine eye is dimmed because of vexation; 

it waxes old because of all mine adversaries. 

SAUL 

Beautiful, David! You're a true poet! 

DAVID 

(Continues singing and playing.) 
Depart from me, all you workers of iniquity; 
for God has heard the voice of my weeping. 



218 



LOOKING BACK: Four Flays 

God has heard my supplication; 

God receives my prayer. 

All mine enemies shall be ashamed and sore affrighted; 

they shall turn back, they shall be ashamed suddenly. 

SAUL 

(Sits up on his throne, a smile on his face.) 
Thank you, David. I feel so much better. You're just like a son 
to me, and I love you! 

DAVID 

Thank you, my King! 

SAUL and DAVID maintain their positions while the upstage 
area is darkened and the downstage area is illuminated. 

JONATHAN 

What a blessing David was to Father! All David had to 
do was sing and play, and Father's mood was magically 
transformed. 

MICHAL 

Yes, David had a wondrous touch. Not just with music but 
with people. He really cared and put himself out for others. 

JONATHAN 

That's why he volunteered to fight Goliath, that giant of a 
man whom everyone else feared. 

MICHAL and JONATHAN maintain their positions as 
the downstage area is darkened and the upstage area is 
illuminated to reveal a crowned SAUL sitting as before, 
holding a spear, with DAVID sitting at his feet and holding 
his harp. 



219 



MICHAL 

DAVID 

My King, I hear the enemy will have a giant fighting us. 

SAUL 

A mighty giant whose very sight makes men lose heart. 

DAVID 

And this giant's name is what, my King? 

SAUL 

Goliath. . 

DAVID 

Is it true, my King, the giant wishes to fight just one of ours, 
and have the match decide the outcome of the war? 

SAUL 

That's his idea. But there's not one among our people who 
would face Goliath. 

DAVID 

If you'd permit me to suggest someone, my King, I know 
someone who could beat the giant. 

SAUL 

You do? Who? 

DAVID 

Well,uh... 

SAUL 

Speak up, David! Who among us would be so courageous as 
to face Goliath? 



220 



LOOKING BACK: Four Plays 

DAVID 

Uh. Sir! My King! I think - - 1 would. 

SAUL 

You? The court musician? 

DAVID 

I, the shepherd boy. As a shepherd, I killed bear and lion 
both. 

SAUL 

You did? 

DAVID 

Yes, I was protecting my father's herd of sheep, my King. 

SAUL 

What weapons did you use to slay the beasts? 

DAVID 

Nothing but my sling and some small, smooth stones, my 
King. 

SAUL 

And is that how you would arm yourself against Goliath, with 
a sling and some small, smooth stones? 

DAVID 

Of course, my King. 

SAUL 

Hah! Are you aware how this Goliath's armed? He has a brass 
helmet on his head and a heavy coat of armor. 



221 



MICHAL 

DAVID 



I see, my King. 



SAUL 

He has greaves of brass on his legs and a brass javelin 
between his shoulders. 

DAVID 

Interesting. 

SAUL 

The shaft of his spear is like a beam. 

DAVID 

Aha. 

SAUL 

And his spear's head is sharp and weighty. 

DAVID 

Hmm. 

SAUL 

Do you still want to fight the giant, David? 

DAVID 

With God's help, I can beat him with a sling, my King. 

SAUL 

You seem so self-assured and quite determined. And since 
nobody else would fight the giant, I'd let you do it on only one 
condition. 

DAVID 

What's that, my King? 



222 



LOOKING BACK: Four Plays 

SAUL 

That you will wear my armor when you fight. I couldn't let 
you go out there without. 

DAVID 

How could I fight Goliath with your armor on, my King? It 
would hamper my movement and ability to fight. 

SAUL 

Just try my armor on, David, then decide, won't you? I 
couldn't bear to have my David killed. 

SAUL and DAVID maintain their positions while the upstage 
area is darkened and the downstage area is illuminated. 
MICHAL and JONATHAN are downstage, as before. 

JONATHAN 

Even after Father agreed to let David fight, he wasn't 
confident that David could prevail. 

MICHAL 

Or indeed survive. That's why Father wanted David to wear 
the king's armor. 

JONATHAN 

But David would have none of it. He faced Goliath wearing 
nothing but his shepherd clothing and carrying his sling. 

MICHAL 

What a courageous young man was David! And yet so 
unassuming. I loved him all the more for that! 

JONATHAN 

After he killed Goliath with his sling, David cut off the 
giant's head with Goliath's own sword. 



223 



MICHAL 

MICHAL 

But he didn't keep the giant's head as a trophy for himself, 
although he was entitled to. 

JONATHAN 

Right. After the match, he walked into the palace carrying 
Goliath's head, to give it to Father as a token of his loyalty. 

MICHAL 

It was quite a spectacle. 

JONATHAN 

And do you remember how all our people cheered David? 

MICHAL 

How could I forget? They sang, "Saul hath slain his 
thousands, and David his ten thousands." 

JONATHAN 

David instantly became a national hero. 

MICHAL 

Unfortunately, it didn't do much for Father's soul. His self 
esteem suffered even further. What Samuel started, David's 
victory over Goliath continued. Father began suspecting that 
David was the one who would replace him on the throne. 

MICHAL and JONATHAN maintain their positions as the 
downstage area is darkened. The upstage area is illuminated 
to reveal a crowned SAUL sitting dejected on the rock, a 
spear in his hand, with DAVID sitting at the wall nearby, 
holding his harp. 

SAUL 

Sing, David! Have you forgotten what you're here for? 



224 



LOOKING BACK: Four Plays 

DAVID 

I have just the right song for you, my King. I wrote it very 
recently, after my contest with Goliath. 

SAUL 

Don't mention Goliath to me. Just sing. 



Yes, my King! 



Let me hear it already! 



DAVID 



SAUL 



DAVID 

(Singing and playing his harp.) 
O God, our Lord, how glorious is Your name in all the earth! 
whose majesty is rehearsed above the heavens. 
Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings 
have You founded strength, 
because of Your adversaries; 
that You might still the enemy and the avenger. 
When I behold Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, 
the moon and the stars, which You have established; 
What is man, that You are mindful of him? 
and the son of man, that You think of him? 
Yet You have made him but little lower than the angels, 
and have crowned him with glory and honor. 
You have made him to have dominion 
over the works of Your hands; 
You have put all things under his feet: 
Sheep and oxen, all of them... 

SAUL sits up, holds up his spear, aims it at DAVID and 
throws it. DAVID, unaware, is engrossed in singing and 
playing as SAUL'S spear strikes the wall beside him and falls 



225 



MICHAL 

to the ground. DAVID stops abruptly, looks around, notices 
the spear lying on the ground next to him, then looks at SAUL 
and gets up and flees, exiting at stage left. SAUL gets up 
and runs toward the wall to retrieve his spear, then chases 
DAVID, but DAVID has escaped. SAUL drops the spear, falls 
to the ground and sobs. After a while, the lighting over the 
upstage area goes off, while the downstage area becomes 
illuminated. 

JONATHAN 

How sad to think that Father tried to kill David! 

MICHAL 

Yes, and that was just the beginning. He demanded that 
David single-handedly smite a hundred of the enemy before 
David and I could wed. 

JONATHAN 

I think Father was hoping David would be killed trying to 
smite a hundred men. 

MICHAL 

But David succeeded in killing the hundred, so I became his 
bride. Luckily Merav wanted to marry Adriel, or she would 
have been entitled to marry David, as Father's older daughter. 

JONATHAN 

You seemed so happy to be David's wife! 

MICHAL 

Yes, we were very much in love! And David was as kind and 
giving in our marriage as he was in everything else. 

JONATHAN 

How sad for you that David had to leave! 



226 



LOOKING BACK: Four Flays 

MICHAL 

David's life was at stake. 

JONATHAN 

I wonder if your marriage only increased Father's jealousy of 
David. You were always Father's favorite. 

MICHAL 

I've often wondered that myself. 

JONATHAN 

David had no choice but to escape. 

MICHAL 

I helped him do it, if you recall. His life meant more to me 
than my own happiness. 

JONATHAN 

How sad that it was Father who caused you to give up your 
husband! 

MICHAL 

Sometimes I wonder if Father's jealousy of David would have 
melted away if David and I had child. 

JONATHAN 

Such a child would have merged the House of Saul with the 
House of David. A perfect solution to Father's discontent. 

MICHAL 

But we never had a chance. David had to flee from Father 
almost at the start. 



227 



MICHAL 

JONATHAN 

How ironic that it was Father himself who made impossible 
such an obvious solution. 

MICHAL 

And it was not long before Father gave me to Palti. 

JONATHAN 

Perhaps it was Father's way of punishing David. Taking his 
beloved wife away and giving her to another man. 

MICHAL 

I felt like I was being punished, too. My love for David knew 
no bounds. It took a long time before I made my peace with 
Father's action. Luckily Palti was a kind and gentle soul. And 
over time I forgave Father. I guess I had to mature before I 
understood that Father was not evil, only sick. I overcame my 
anger. 

JONATHAN 

You've spent a lot of time in the palace lately, trying to help 
Father. 

MICHAL 

Palti has been most understanding, the dear man. 

JONATHAN 

You have a kind and forgiving heart, Michal. If David knew, 
he would be very proud! 

SAUL, in battle gear, with a long sword tucked in his belt, 
enters from upstage. He looks disheveled and haggard. He 
approaches MICHAL and JONATHAN downstage. 



228 



LOOKING BACK: Four Plays 

SAUL 

Come on, Jonathan. We'll pick up your brothers at the camp. 
It's time to face our enemy. Let's go. 

JONATHAN and SAUL hug MICHAL in turn, then exit 
upstage. 

MICHAL 

(Calling after them.) 
May God keep you both! Farewell! 



CURTAIN 



229 



LOOKING BACK: Four Plays 

ACT THREE 

A few years later. The area at stage right is dark. At stage 
left, a small room in DAVID'S palace is illuminated, as is the 
area in front of it downstage. The room, which is defined by 
vertical bars suggesting a prison cell, is sparsely furnished 
with a mattress placed on the floor against the bars near 
center stage, and a stool. There is a door in the back of the 
room, while at downstage, facing the audience, is a small, 
high, opening in the bars, which serves as a window. An aged 
MICHAL is sitting on the stool, looking dejected. The sound 
of trumpets and cheering can be heard coming from offstage. 
MICHAL gets up, walks over to the window and peers out. An 
aged DAVID enters from stage left and appears downstage, 
in front of the window. He has his crown on but is naked from 
his waist up. He is dancing wildly to the music. 

MICHAL 

It's David dancing half-naked in the street! 

MICHAL shakes her head from side to side, then turns away 
from the window and sits on her stool again. The sound of 
trumpets and cheering from offstage increases and MICHAL 
gets up, walks to the window and looks out again. DAVID is 
still dancing wildly. 

MICHAL 

The king has lost all sense of dignity! 

MICHAL turns away from the window and sits on her stool 
again. The sound of trumpets and cheering from offstage 
increases, and MICHAL gets up, approaches the window and 
looks out yet again. DAVID is still dancing wildly. 



231 



MICHAL 

MICHAL 

I can't imagine Father behaving in this brazen way! With 
all his problems, Father would never willingly sacrifice the 
dignity of his office by dancing half-naked in the street. I 
wonder what it is that makes people who attain great power 
change. Does their power go into their head and make them 
feel super-human, so they think they can do anything they 
please? Or do they operate out of fear of losing their power, 
so they do whatever they hope will bolster them in their 
position? I know Father changed after he became king, but 
then I've always believed it was Samuel who caused the 
change. What is it that caused David to change? 

The sound of trumpets and cheering stops. The lights at stage 
left go off The stage is dark for a moment before the lights at 
stage right go up. A middle-aged DAVID, dressed in military 
garb and wearing a crown, enters from upstage right, 
followed by a middle-aged MICHAL, whose waist is tied 
by a rope pulled by DAVID. PALTI enters a moment later, 
following the procession a couple of feet behind MICHAL. 
PALTI is crying. 

MICHAL 

What has become of you, David, that you treat me like an 
animal? 

DAVID 

I asked you to follow me willingly, but you refused. 

MICHAL 

I am King Saul's daughter! I take orders from no one! 

DAVID 

That's why I had no choice but to treat you as my prisoner. 



232 



LOOKING BACK: Four Flays 

MICHAL 

Have you no regard for the fact that I was once your wife? 

DAVID 

You still are my wife, though many years have passed since 
we last saw each other. 

MICHAL 

Father gave me as a wife to Palti when you left. 

DAVID 

I never divorced you. You're still my wife. 

MICHAL 

By our people's custom, when a man abandons his wife, she 
is free to marry another. 

DAVID 

You know full well I never abandoned you. I had to flee from 
your father. He was intent on killing me. 

MICHAL 

And while you were fleeing from my father and after, you 
acquired several wives, I hear. Was it five wives? Or was 
it six? Or seven? Let me count: There was Ahinoam, the 
Jezreelite; Abigail the Carmelite; Maachah, daughter of 
Talmai, King of Geshur; there was Haggith; and Abital; and 
Eglah; and last but not least, Bathsheba, previously wife of 
Uriah the Hittite, the famous Uriah whom you sent to battle 
to be killed so you could marry his widow. Now, have I listed 
all your wives? Sounds like a full harem to me. 

DAVID 

I see you followed my comings and goings quite closely. 
Actually, in courting other women, I was trying to forget you, 



233 



M1CHAL 



Michal. But now I see you have become a bitter woman. I 
don't remember you being this way when we were young. 

MICHAL 

Life has a way of taking its toll. I lost my father and three 
brothers in the war. Such loss would take a heavy toll on 
anyone. 

DAVID 

(Stops walking and faces MICHAL.) 
It took a toll on me too, Michal. Your brother Jonathan 
was my dearest friend. And I greatly admired your father. 
Although your father persecuted me without pause and would 
have killed me if he could, I never harmed him even when the 
opportunity arose. 

The stage goes dark. Slowly the area in front of the barred 
room is illuminated. SAUL wearing a crown, is seen lying 
there on the ground, sleeping, with his sword upright, its tip 
stuck in the ground beside him. A young DAVID approaches 
SAUL stealthily, grabs SAULS sword and, carrying the 
sword, runs back to the darkened area at stage right. 

DAVID 

King Saul! Wake up! Get up and wield your sword! 

SAUL 

(Wakes up and looks around.) 
My sword! Who took my sword? It's gone! 

DAVID 

Don't worry, King Saul. I have your sword. Do you want it 
back? 



234 



LOOKING BACK: Four Flays 

SAUL 

I recognize the voice. Is it you, David? 

DAVID 

Yes, it's David, your son-in-law, your son Jonathan's best 
friend and your eternal servant. I'm standing here, not far 
from you. And I do, indeed, have your sword. I got close 
enough to you to grab it, and to kill you if I wished. But, as 
you can see, I didn't kill you, because I have no intention to 
harm you, let alone kill you or take away your throne. You 
are God's anointed and I honor God's will. If only you knew 
what's in my heart you'd stop this mad pursuit of me and let 
me come back. 

DAVID tosses the sword toward SAUL. It lands on the 
ground near SAUL, who picks it up. The area in front of 
the barred room goes dark. Saul exits. Slowly, stage right is 
illuminated and DAVID, wearing a crown, resumes leading 
MICHAL by the rope tied to her waist, with PALTI following. 

MICHAL 

I know you meant Father no harm, David. It was Samuel who 
poisoned Father's mind by threatening him with losing his 
throne. 

DAVID 

Did Samuel indicate to whom King Saul would lose it? 

MICHAL 

No, but once you killed Goliath and became a national hero, 
Father just assumed you were the one of whom Samuel spoke. 

DAVID 

Sometimes I wish I never fought Goliath. It began a 
downward spiral for me. 



235 



MICHAL 

MICHAL 

But you saved our people by slaying the giant! 

DAVID 

At what cost to our personal lives, Michal! To make it worse, 
the victory was short-lived, as many war victories are. It 
was not long before the same enemy attacked again. And 
eventually it was by the same enemy's hand that your father 
and your brothers fell. 

MICHAL 

A never-ending cycle of human grief. You know, David, I 
didn't believe Samuel when he foretold that my father and 
three brothers would be killed in battle. 

DAVID 

There's no telling who would fall in war. 

MICHAL 

Samuel made it sound like their death was God's punishment 
for Father's so-called sins. 

DAVID 

I like to think that God is more merciful than that. But let's 
not talk about these somber matters now, Michal. Tell me 
about yourself. How have you fared in all these years? 

MICHAL 

I can't complain. Palti has been good to me. He's always there 
to help. We have been raising my sister Merav's five sons 
since she died. We also helped care for my brother Jonathan's 
son, Mephi. I don't know if you heard. Mephi is disabled and 
needs much care. He's lame in both his feet. 



236 



LOOKING BACK: Four Plays 

DAVID 



I know. 



MICHAL 

He was injured while still little, when his nurse dropped him. 
She was fleeing with him upon hearing that Jonathan was slain. 

DAVID 

(Resumes walking and pulling MICHAL by the rope.) 
Sounds like you've had a busy life, Michal. I, too, have raised 
children, boys and girls. Or, to put it more accurately, I let 
their mothers raise them. I'm just too busy being king. 

MICHAL 

It takes a mother and a father to do the job right. My sister's 
sons need Palti and me still, as does Jonathan's boy. You always 
had a kind and understanding heart, David. Please let me return 
to my home, where I can serve the ones who need me. 

PALTI 

(Stepping forward and speaking through his tears.) 
Please - - your Majesty. Let Michal - - come home - - where 
she belongs. We love - - and need her. You have - - the 
kingdom - - and seven wives. What is - - Michal - - to you? 

DAVID 

(Enraged, stops, walks over to PALTI and faces him.) 
Who are you to ask what Michal is to me? She is my 
property, for which I paid her father by striking down one 
hundred men. She is a symbol of the House of Saul so her 
presence in my palace will bolster my own status as king. 
But, above all, she is my wife. I will not give anyone the 
opportunity to question my manhood by pointing to the fact 
my wife has left me for another man. Now go home, Palti, 
and don't ever let me catch you near Michal again! 



237 



MICHAL 

PALTI, still crying, walks over to MICHAL and hugs her, 
then turns around and walks in the direction from which he 
came. MICHAL watches PALTI walk away and bursts into 
tears. DAVID, still holding the rope, leads MICHAL on. 

MICHAL 

Dear Palti! He won't fare well without me. 

DAVID 

He's not at all what I expected. So weak. Quite different from 
the House of Saul. 

MICHAL 

That term brings forth such frightful memories! 

DAVID 

How so? 

MICHAL 

Losing my loved ones in that war was bad enough. But what 
happened in the aftermath was even worse. The enemy cut 
off Father's head. 

DAVID 

I know. I'd sought refuge from your father behind enemy 
lines, and heard them brag about it. 

MICHAL 

Had you fought side by side with my father and three 
brothers, you might have saved my loved ones' lives. 

DAVID 

The enemy had shown me kindness. Such action would 
betray their trust. 



238 



LOOKING BACK: Four Plays 

MICHAL 

Had you not been a deserter, you might have led our people to 
a victory. 

DAVID 

Sometimes a man must consider his own survival. 

MICHAL 

They took my father's and my brothers' bodies and hung 
them for display on their city walls. 

DAVID 

I saw the four bodies there. 

MICHAL 

What a gruesome sight that must have been! 

DAVID 

I tried to get them to remove the bodies, but why would the 
enemy listen to me? I was the one who cut off Goliath's head 
and carried it away with me. 

MICHAL 

And to think how proud I was of you then! 

DAVID 

As I recall, that's when you fell in love with me! 

The stage becomes dark. A moment later, center stage is 
illuminated and a young DAVID appears there. A young 
MICHAL walks over to him. He turns around and sees her. 
They hug and stand locked in an embrace throughout the 
following scene. 



239 



MICHAL 

DAVID 

Michal! How good to see you! 

MICHAL 

David, my love! How was my father today? 

DAVID 

He's become quite moody, as you know. This was a down day 
for him. 

MICHAL 

As too many of his days now are. Did he enjoy your song? 

DAVID 

He didn't say. He sat dejected, as if lost in thought. The 
King's been angry with me since I slew Goliath. 

MICHAL 

I think he was jealous that you became a national hero and 
your popularity surpassed his own. 

DAVID 

As you know, I didn't try to be popular. In fighting Goliath, 
all I wanted was to serve my King, my people and my God. 

MICHAL 

I know. But let's look on the bright side. At least Father has 
agreed to our being wed 

DAVID 

He had no choice since he publicly promised his daughter to 
whoever slew Goliath. 

MICHAL 

Luckily my sister, Merav, wanted to marry Adriel. 



240 



LOOKING BACK: Four Flays 

DAVID 

Now your father has told me what he wants in lieu of a 
dowry. 

MICHAL 

What is it he wants? 

DAVID 

He wants me to slay a hundred of our enemy. 

MICHAL 

No! 

DAVID 

Yes. Single handedly. 

MICHAL 

Is that safe, David? For you to try to kill a hundred men? 

DAVID 

I love you more than anyone will ever know. I want you to be 
my wife. 

MICHAL 

Perhaps it's Father's way of trying to get you killed. His mind 
no longer works as it once did. 

DAVID 

I have to take the chance. 

MICHAL 

Oh, David. I couldn't bear to lose you. Promise you'll be 
careful! Promise you'll come back! 



241 



MICHAL 

DAVID 



God willing, I shall. 



DAVID and MICHAL kiss for a long moment. The stage 
becomes dark. A moment later, a crowned, middle-aged 
DAVID appears upstage as before, pulling middle-aged 
MICHAL behind him. 

MICHAL 

How we change our view of things with age! 

DAVID 

And with experience. Eventually some people beholden 
to your father removed the four bodies from the walls and 
carted them away to give them proper burial. 

MICHAL 

Some day I will visit those sacred graves and pay my 
respects. 

DAVID 

I'd like to do it with you, dear Michal. Did anyone ever tell 
you that when your father and Jonathan fell, I wrote a song 
about them? 

MICHAL 

So while our people bled, you, David, poetized? 

DAVID 

It was about your loved ones that I wrote. Would you like to 
hear my song? 

MICHAL 

Ah, well. 



242 



LOOKING BACK : Four Plays 

DAVID 

It was really a lament. I don't remember the exact words, but 
it went something like this: 

Your beauty, O Israel, upon Your high places is slain! 

How are the mighty fallen! 

Tell it not in Gath, publish it not in the streets ofAshkelon; 

lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice, 

lest the daughters of the uncircumcised triumph. 

You mountains ofGilboa 

let there be no dew nor rain upon you, 

neither fields of choice fruits; 

for there the shield of the mighty was vilely cast away, 

the shield of Saul, not anointed with oil. 

From the blood of the slain, from the fat of the mighty, 

the bow of Jonathan turned not back, 

and the sword of Saul returned not empty. 

Saul and Jonathan, the lovely and the pleasant in their lives, 

even in their death they were not divided; 

they were swifter than eagles, they were stronger than lions. 

You daughters of Israel, weep over Saul, 

who clothed you in scarlet, with other delights, 

who put ornaments of gold upon your apparel. 

How are the mighty fallen in the midst of the battle! 

Jonathan upon Your high places is slain! 

I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan; 

very pleasant have You been unto me; 

wonderful was Your love to me, passing the love of women. 

How are the mighty fallen, 

and the weapons of war perished! 

MICHAL 

How moving! Do you still compose and sing and play the 
harp? 



243 



MICHAL 

DAVID 

I haven't for a long time. Preoccupation with affairs of state 
has dried me up. 

MICHAL 

It's sad when beauty gives way to the mundane! 

DAVID and MICHAL reach the downstage area. The lights 
go out. In a moment or two, the barred room is illuminated 
and an aged MICHAL is there, pacing back and forth and 
occasionally looking out the window, as before. An aged 
DAVID enters the stage from stage left, with his crown on 
and naked from the waist up, as he was while dancing. He 
walks into the barred room through the door in back while 
MICHAL is looking out the window. 

DAVID 

(Proudly.) 
Hey, Michal! Did you see me dancing? 

MICHAL 

(Turning around.) 
Look at you, David! Aren't you ashamed of yourself? 

DAVID 

What's wrong with dancing? 

MICHAL 

There's nothing wrong with dancing, but there's definitely 
something wrong with a king exposing himself in public in 
the street. 

DAVID 

I was dancing to celebrate God. 



244 



LOOKING BACK: Four Plays 

MICHAL 

And to impress the ladies. You uncovered yourself in public 
in a most undignified way. 

DAVID 

What's wrong with a king displaying his virility? 

MICHAL 

(Pause.) 
Oh, David, what became of that young man I once knew? 

DAVID 

(Pause.) 
And what happened to my beloved Michal? You've become 
so cold I hardly know you. 

MICHAL 

If I'm cold, it's because I'm dead inside. My husband Palti 
died of loneliness and grief. 

DAVID 

I heard. 

MICHAL 

The only brother that remained to me after the others fell, my 
brother Ish, who took the throne right after Father fell, was 
murdered 

DAVID 

He was killed by two of his own lieutenants. 

MICHAL 

He only ruled two years. 



245 



MfCHAL 

DAVID 

I put both murderers to death for their vile deed. 

MICHAL 

Merav's five sons, whom Palti and I raised as our own, were 
handed over to sworn enemies of Father's. 

DAVID 

I know. 

MICHAL 

Together with my two half-brothers, Father's sons by his 
concubine. 

DAVID 

I know. 

MICHAL 

All seven were put to death. 

DAVID 

I know. 

MICHAL 

(Pause.) 
I heard you were the one to hand the seven over. 

DAVID 

(Pause.) 
Sometimes good policy dictates we do what may seem 
wrong. 



246 



LOOKING BACK: Four Plays 

MICHAL 

By doing so you added seven from the House of Saul to my 
father and four dead brothers. That makes twelve of my dear 
ones killed. 

DAVID 

(Pause.) 
I spared Jonathan's boy, though, didn't I? 

MICHAL 

Poor Mephi! So disabled he couldn't even walk. 

DAVID 

In tribute to my dear friend Jonathan, I invited Mephi to live 
at the palace and be a permanent guest at my table. 

MICHAL 

I heard. But now Mephi, too, is dead. 

DAVID 

Yes. 

MICHAL 

I'm the sole survivor of King Saul's house. 

DAVID takes MICHAL in his arms. She tries to resist but his 
grip on her is too firm. 

DAVID 

Let the dead rest in peace, dear Michal. You should rejoice in 
living. 

MICHAL 

It's hard to feel alive when death has struck me all around. 



247 



MICHAL 

DAVID 

Come back to me, Michal! I've missed you all these years. 

MICHAL 

The Michal you once loved has long been dead. 

DAVID 

I'll help you forget your wretched past, Michal. 

MICHAL 

You can't. 

DAVID 

(Trying to kiss MICHAL on the lips.) 
Be a wife to me, Michal - not just my prisoner. 

MICHAL 

(Turning her face away to avoid his kiss.) 
I can't. 

DAVID 

Be my lover - not just my queen, and I will give you life. 

MICHAL 

(Tears herself away from DAVID and falls on the mattress, 

sobbing.) 
It's much too late for that. 

DAVID 

(Kneeling next to MICHAL on the floor and stroking her hair.) 
My dear Michal. Let's begin all over. I love you as much now 
as I did when we were young. 

DAVID again tries to kiss MICHAL on the lips. MICHAL 
turns her face away. 



248 



LOOKING BACK: Four Plays 

MICHAL 

(Unresponsive, speaking to herself.) 
Everything is dead. Only my father's long shadow still lives, 
hanging over me, even from the grave. 

DAVID 

(Getting up.) 
As God rejected your father, so do I now reject you, Michal. 
For the rest of your life, you will stay here as my queen and 
my prisoner. But we will never see each other again. 

DAVID walks out through the door in back of the barred 
room. The stage goes dark. 



CURTAIN 



249 



SISERA'S MOTHER 

A ten minute play 



251 



CHARACTERS 

SISERA'S MOTHER A middle-aged woman, mother of 

SISERA. 



SISERA 



Commander of Canaanite forces 
fighting Israel. 



YAEL 



A young woman, a wife, a Kenite. 



253 



SISERA'S MOTHER 

TIME AND PLACE 

The action takes place in ancient Israel, in the time of 
Deborah, the biblical judge and prophetess, who was the 
leader of her nation in its pre-monarchic period, over 3000 
years ago. The play was inspired by chapters 4-5 of the Old 
Testament Book of Judges. 



254 



LOOKING BACK: Four Plays 

The stage is dark. Trumpets are audible in the distance. 
Amidst the sound of trumpets, men are shouting, crying. 
Neighing horses and thunder can be heard. Suddenly there 
is silence. Slowly, the stage is illuminated to reveal a small 
room at stage right and a tent at stage left. The room and the 
tent are independently illuminated. The ground around them 
is strewn with small branches and other debris, suggesting 
recent rain. 

The room is defined by two stone walls, perpendicular to 
each other, forming the corner of a house, with one wall 
facing the audience and the other facing stage left. The wall 
facing the audience has a small window in it. Through the 
window, a bright interior is visible, suggesting opulence. 
SISERA 'S MOTHER, richly attired and bejeweled, can be 
seen peering through the window. During the whole play, she 
occasionally approaches the window, peers out, then retreats 
into the interior of the room and comes back to peer through 
the window whenever she speaks. 

The tent is rectangular, with its long side parallel to stage 
front and its entrance, a slit in the tent-wall, facing mid- 
stage. The tent has the sidewall closest to the audience 
raised, so as to reveal the tent's interior. The tent is 
sparsely furnished with a blanket-covered mattress on the 
floor and a small stool near the entrance. In the interior of 
the tent, there is a small open shelf cabinet on which some 
food containers and dishes can be seen. A rope is strung in 
the upstage left corner of the tent. 

YAEL is seated on the stool inside the tent, brushing her hair 
while looking in a hand-held mirror. She is lavishly dressed, 
her clothing contrasting with her plain surroundings. 



255 



SISERA'S MOTHER 

YAEL 

(To the audience.) 
The sounds of war are deafening. I hope Heber, my husband, 
is safe. We Kenites have always stood for peace. We are 
simple people, nomads, pitching our tent where we can make 
a living. We have no stake in this war. We are descendants 
of Jethro, father-in-law of Moses, and therefore related to 
the Israelites, in whose territory our tent is now pitched. 
But we are also related to the Canaanites, amongst whom 
we have dwelled for generations. We recently concluded an 
official peace treaty with King Yabin, so the Canaanites can 
be assured of our neutrality. This war between the Israelites 
and the Canaanites is bad for us. Simply put, war is bad 
for business. I can understand why the Israelite prophetess, 
Deborah, declared war on the Canaanites and called her 
nation to arms. Twenty years of oppression were more than 
any people could endure. But personally, I despise war. Why 
can't people simply get along? 

SISERA enters from upstage. He is wearing military 
garb bearing insignia indicating high command, but he 
is disheveled, his pants ripped, his boots muddy. He is 
bareheaded. His clothes and hair are wet, indicating he 
has been caught in a downpour. As he enters, he looks over 
his shoulders, seemingly concerned about being pursued, 
stumbles this way and that, obviously exhausted, then, 
spotting the tent at stage left, he makes his way toward it 
with great effort, breathing heavily, and peers through its 
entrance. YAEL notices SISERA peering into the tent. For a 
moment, she appears frightened, but then she rises, places 
her brush and mirror on the stool, and walks self-assuredly 
toward the tent entrance. 



256 



LOOKING BACK: Four Plays 

YAEL 

(Parting the door-slit and looking through it.) 
Who are you? 

SISERA 

(Looking this way and that over his shoulders.) 
Is this not - - the tent of - - Heber the Kenite? 

YAEL 

It is. I'm his wife. 

SISERA 

I need to - - speak to him. 

YAEL 

He's out on business. 

SISERA 

Please - - let me in. 

YAEL 

I can't. It's against the custom of our people for a wife to let a 
strange man in when she's alone. 

SISERA 

It's urgent - - that you make an exception - - in my case. 

YAEL 

Who are you? 

SISERA 

I'm King Yabin's - - soldier - - and - - as I'm sure you know 
- - the Kenites have - - concluded - - a treaty of peace - - with 
the Canaanites' King. 



257 



SISERA'S MOTHER 

YAEL 

To ensure we stay loyal and avoid repeating past infidelities, I 
know. 

SISERA 

Perhaps. - - But I'm not here to look - - into these matters. - - 
There's a more pressing matter - - right here at hand. 

YAEL 

(Looking closely at the insignia on SISERA 'S uniform.) 
Are you by chance Sisera, commander of Canaanite forces? 
Your uniform. . . 

SISERA 

I'm not free to say. - - Let's just say I'm an ally of the Kenites 
- - Please let me in. - - I've run a long way. - - I'm being 
pursued... 

YAEL 

You must be Sisera. And I notice the sound of war has 
stopped. No trumpets, no men crying out, not even horses 
neighing. 

SISERA'S MOTHER 

(Looking out the window.) 
Where is my son? Why is Sisera's chariot delayed? 

SISERA 

I'm thirsty - - and tired - - 

YAEL 

But who's pursuing you? Barak, commander of Israel's 
forces? From your looks it seems the Canaanites have lost the 
war. 



258 



LOOKING BACK: Four Plays 

SISERA 

I'll explain - - after I've had some rest. - - Please feel 
compassion - - for a tired ally - - for a thirsty friend - - You'll 
make your husband - - proud. 

YAEL 

(Hesitates, then opens the door-slit to let SISERA in.) 
Come in! Welcome! 

SISERA 

(Entering, then stumbling and falling to the floor.) 
If anyone asks, - - please deny - - there's any stranger here. 

YAEL 

You can count on me. We Kenites obey the rules of 
hospitality. 

SISERA'S MOTHER 

Why are the hooves of his horses silent? 

SISERA 

Water - - please. 

YAEL 

(Goes to the cabinet and pours some milk into a bowl.) 
I have some milk for you. It's better than plain water. 

YAEL kneels next to SISERA and holds the bowl of milk to his 
lips. SISERA drinks. 

SISERA 

Thank you - - for your hospitality. - - What is your name? 

YAEL 

"Yael." 



259 



SISERA'S MOTHER 

SISERA 

"Yael"? 

YAEL 

It means "wild goat." 

SISERA 

Thank you, - - Yael. 

YAEL 

You must be hungry. I made some fresh curd this morning. 
I'll get you some. 

SISERA 

Thank you, - - Yael. 

SISERA'S MOTHER 

From the sound of it, the fighting's over. So what's keeping 
him away? 

YAEL gets up and walks over to the cabinet, where she 
spoons some curd into the milk bowl, then walks over to 
SISERA and, holding the bowl with one hand, spoons the 
curd into SISERA 'S mouth. 

YAEL 

You must have been quite hungry to down the curd so fast. 

SISERA 

I was. - - Thank you, Yael, - - for your hospitality. - - And 
now I'm tired. - - 1 want to go to sleep. 

SISERA tries to lie down on the floor. 



260 



LOOKING BACK: Four Plays 

YAEL 

Wait. Why don't you lie down on the mattress? It's much 
more comfortable than the floor. I'll cover you with the 
blanket and you can have a good, long rest. 

YAEL gets up, puts the bowl on top of the cabinet, then walks 
back to SISERA and helps him up onto his feet. He seems 
limp as she guides him to the mattress, removes the blanket, 
helps him lie down and covers him with the blanket so that 
only his head is visible. 

SISERA 

Thank you, - - Yael. 

SISERA'S MOTHER 

He's always so punctual. 



You're trembling. 



I'm - - cold. 



YAEL 



SISERA 



YAEL 

Perhaps your wet clothes are making you cold. 

SISERA 

It was pouring rain. - - The chariots proved - - useless in the 
mud. 

YAEL 

I'll take your clothes off and hang them up to dry. 



261 



SISERA'S MOTHER 

SISERA 

Nine hundred chariots - - all stuck - - 1 had to abandon mine 
- - and run here - - through a sea of mud. 

YAEL removes the blanket, takes SISERA 'S boots and socks 
off, then undresses him and covers him with the blanket 
again so that only his head is visible. She gets up and hangs 
his clothes on the rope which is strung in the far stage left 
corner of the tent, and places his boots nearby. She returns to 
SISERA. 

YAEL 

How does that feel? 

SISERA'S MOTHER 

I wonder if something has happened to him. 

SISERA 

Better, - - but I'm - - still cold. 

YAEL 

I see you're shivering. I can warm you up. 

SISERA 

Thank you, - - Yael. 

YAEL 

I'll lie down next to you so the warmth of my body will warm 
up yours. 

SISERA 

How kind you are, - - Yael! 

SISERA'S MOTHER 

Maybe he's been wounded. 



262 



LOOKING BACK: Four Plays 

YAEL lies down next to SISERA under the blanket. After 
a moment, the tent goes dark and SISERA can be heard 
snoring. Slowly, the tent is illuminated again but now only 
dimly. YAEL rises, careful not to disturb SISERA, and re- 
covers him, this time including his head, with the blanket. 
She then walks quietly in the tent toward stage left, where she 
picks up a tent peg and a mallet from the ground. SISERA is 
still snoring. Holding the peg in her left hand and the mallet 
in her right, she quietly walks back to the mattress, holds the 
peg over the bulge in the blanket which indicates SISERA 'S 
head, and pounds the peg into it with one strike of the mallet. 
SISERA stops snoring, and makes a gurgling sound. Then all 
is quiet in the tent. The tent grows dark. 

SISERA'S MOTHER 

Maybe he's been killed. No, nothing could have happened to 
my son. He's been in many battles and he's always returned 
to me. Such a brave man, commanding nine hundred chariots 
against Israel's foot soldiers. The balance of power alone 
would weigh in favor of Sisera. I mustn't let myself worry. 
That's what he always tells me. Such a sweet, kind boy. So 
good to his mother. And what's more important in a man than 
how he treats his own mother? When all is said and done, it's 
more important than all the battles won and all the cheering 
of the crowds. I must do as he says and not worry. He's 
probably won the battle by now and is dividing the spoils 
among his men. Spoils of dyed garments and of embroideries 
for the necks of his brave soldiers. And for each man, an 
Israelite maiden or two to do with as he pleases. . . 

YAEL 

(Emerges from the tent and runs upstage.) 
Barak! Deborah! I killed your enemy! I killed Sisera! 



263 



SISERA'S MOTHER 



YAEL exits. The lights on stage go out, with the exception of 
the room, which remains illuminated. SISERA 'S MOTHER is 
seen silently peering out the room's window. 



CURTAIN 



264 



ABOUT THE AUTHOR 

Born in Israel (then called "Palestine"), Judith Weinshall 
Liberman came to the United States in 1947 to pursue higher 
education after completing the Reali School in Haifa. She 
earned four American university degrees, including a J.D. 
from the University of Chicago Law School and an LL.M. 
from the University of Michigan Law School. Having settled 
in the Boston area in 1956, she studied art and creative 
writing, including play writing. Although she spent most of 
her adult life creating visual art and is best known for her 
artworks about the Holocaust, she did, over the years, take 
time out to write and had four books published. She wrote 
her first play while attending college in America in the late 
1940s. During the ensuing decades, other plays followed. 
LOOKING BACK is the author's first published collection 
of plays. Her play GOOD OLD ABRAHAM, which is 
included in this collection, was performed by the Shades 
Repertory Theater under the direction of Mr. Samuel Harps, 
Artistic Director, at the historic Central Presbyterian Church 
in Haverstraw, New York, in April 2010. Ms. Liberman's 
archives can be found at the Smithsonian Archives of 
American Art and at the Boston Public Library. 



265 



DRAMA 



Born in Haifa, Israel (then called "Palestine"), 
Judith Weinshall Liber man came to the U.S. 
in 1947 to pursue higher education. She earned 
four American university degrees, including a J.D. 
from the University of Chicago Law School and 
an LL.M. from the University of Michigan Law 
School. After settling in the Boston area in 1956, 
she studied art and creative writing. Although she 
spent most of her adult life creating visual art and is 
best known for her artworks about the Holocaust, 
she did, over the years, take time out to write and had four books 
published. She wrote her first play while in college in the late 1940s. 
During the ensuing decades, other plays followed. LOOKING BACK 
is the author's first published collection of plays. Ms. Liberman's 
archives can be found at the Smithsonian Archives of American Art 
and at the Boston Public Library. 





The four plays in this collection were all written after 

Judith Weinshall Liberman reached her eighties. One 

play, EMPATHY, was inspired by a period in the 

playwright s life, when her husband, then only 52, 

suffered a stroke which rendered him unable to play the 

piano and led to his severe depression. The other three 

plays - GOOD OLD ABRAHAM, MICHAL and 

SISERA'S MOTHER - were inspired by Old Testament 

stories which the playwright studied in elementary school 

in her native Israel but upon which she bestows, in her 

plays, a mature perspective that raises questions relevant 

to our times. 

U.S. $17.95 

ISBN ^7fl-l-HSDE-37b5-T 

90000 



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